Chargers show L.A. they are Super Bowl contenders


The Chargers can win the Super Bowl.

I know, I know. Some variation of that statement has been made year after year, decade after decade, and the Chargers still don’t have anything to show for it.

But, really, the Chargers — these Chargers — can win the Super Bowl.

How can anyone not think that after they turned the Fight for L.A. on Sunday into the Surrender at SoFi, in which they submitted their defending-champion landlords?

How can anyone not think they have a chance after watching Austin Ekeler score on a 72-yard run through the Rams’ defense?

How can anyone not think they could be a major problem for the Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills after seeing Mike Williams twist in flight to make a one-handed catch in the 31-10 victory over the Rams?

 Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81) makes a one-handed catch in front of  Rams safety Nick Scott (33).

Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81) makes a one-handed catch in front of Rams safety Nick Scott (33).

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Six-plus decades into their existence, the Chargers finally have replaced the fool’s gold on their uniforms with the genuine article.

These Chargers are for real.

What they’re doing is the antithesis of “Chargering.” Whereas many of their fellow contenders are dealing with new injuries, the once short-handed Chargers are becoming healthier. Whereas many other playoff-bound teams are fluctuating in form, the Chargers have won five of their last six games, including each of their last four.

“I think that we’re improving every time that we go out,” coach Brandon Staley said.

The Chargers are 10-6. They will head into their regular-season finale in Denver next week with the sixth-best record in the AFC.

They have the players. They have the momentum.

“They’re peaking at the right time,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, “and they’ll be fun to watch in the playoffs.”

These aren’t the same Chargers who were embarrassed at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3. Or the same Chargers who dropped another winnable home game against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7.

Slowed earlier in the season by fractured cartilage in his ribs, Justin Herbert once again looks as if he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Just as important are the returns of his weapons. Williams has played the last four games, Keenan Allen the last seven.

Williams had seven catches for 94 yards against the Rams, the most breathtaking of them a one-handed snag of a pass thrown behind him along the left sideline in the second quarter. Williams leaped and turned clockwise to make the grab, landing on his toes before falling out of bounds.

“I think every quarterback has to have that player, or players, that when it’s tight, that I can throw the football to,” Staley said. “People aren’t always open in the NFL. He’s one of those guys, when he’s closely guarded, you can feel good about putting him in a position to make a play. The NFL demands a lot of precision from quarterbacks, and I think that the margin for error increases when you throw it to Mike Williams.”

Allen caught five passes for 60 yards.

The expanded passing options have created more opportunities to run the ball, and vice versa. With 122 yards in 10 carries, Ekeler became the first player to rush for more than 100 yards against the Rams this season.

“It’s great to see those long plays, those explosive plays in the run game,” Herbert said. “I think that opens up our play-action passes.”

With 192 yards on the ground Sunday, the Chargers have rushed for 100 or more yards in each of their last two games. They did that only twice in their first 14 games.

While the offense has discovered how to run the ball, the defense has found a rhythm of its own, with outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy registering sacks in four consecutive games.

Chargers linebacker Kyle Van Noy (8) forced Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield (17) to fumble and then recovered the football.

Chargers linebacker Kyle Van Noy (8) forced Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield (17) to fumble and then recovered the football.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Safety Derwin James Jr. remained on concussion protocol and was sidelined Sunday, but edge rusher Joey Bosa returned from groin surgery. Bosa was credited with a couple of tackles.

Staley said of Bosa: “I think it was very important for him to get out there and play because the players know that they need to get in football shape, they need to get their pads on, they need to go play, they need to know what it’s like to go in and out, playing with pace. You need to get all that football stuff acclimated so that you can go be your best. It was a good step for him today.”

For the Chargers as well.

After decades of unraveling at the wrong moment, they are now coming together at the right time. Staley made this happen, by keeping the team together while they played short-handed. The players made this happen, by believing in Staley’s message. Suddenly, they are positioned to create a new identity for their organization. They are in position to win a Super Bowl.


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