Chargers’ playoff hopes lean big on win over Tennessee Titans

They pushed and pushed Miami’s pace throughout SoFi Stadium, with the Chargers putting on their best defensive display of the season by pushing the Dolphins into a parade of empty games.

Now comes an offense from Tennessee that prefers to operate more downhill than upwind.

“You gotta get physical, man,” Chargers safety Alohi Gilman said. “It’s one on one, me and you, in the backyard. That’s how I grew up. I’m up for the challenge. I’m ready to go.”

Last weekend, the Chargers limited Miami to one offensive touchdown on a day they, too, were limited. Gilman started and played every defensive snap in place of Derwin James Jr., who is again doubtful for Sunday with a quadriceps strain.

They were also missing defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (knee) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (core muscle). Both have had limited practice in this game and are questionable.

Despite that absence, the Chargers dominated the Dolphins a week ago and left quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looking overwhelmed, two things few people would have predicted ahead of kick-off.

“No one thought we were going to win, did they?” said linebacker Drue Tranquill. “In a lot of ways that was a must for us, and we didn’t have anywhere near our best recipe. That’s why the changing room afterwards was so special.”

The win — which came on a night when the Chargers were three-point underdogs — greatly increased the team’s postseason options. Entering Week 15, the Chargers were tied for eighth in the AFC.

They had the same 7-6 record as the New England Patriots at No. 7 and the New York Jets at No. 9. The Chargers were a game behind the Dolphins for the No. 6 spot.

Among those four teams, the Chargers have a clear advantage in terms of remaining schedule strength. They also have improved health – despite James’ injury – and are doing very well after the win in Miami.

“If we weren’t in the playoff talk, it doesn’t matter that we’re getting hot now,” Tranquill said. “But if we can continue to play a good defense, that means everything.”

Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill takes on the Las Vegas Raiders before a snap on Dec. 4.

Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill takes on the Las Vegas Raiders before a snap on Dec. 4.

(Rick Scuteri/Associated Press)

What the Chargers did to the Dolphins was what they were meant to do this season. It only lasted until week 14.

The franchise invested heavily — in both money and draft resources — to rebuild a defense that failed to keep up with one of the NFL’s top five offenses in 2021.

Injuries didn’t help, but a lack of execution significantly meant that it remained impossible to stop the run and grab games there to take them on. Then the Chargers grabbed Miami by the throat and wouldn’t let go.

Yes, if they can continue to play defense like this, the 2022 Chargers still have time to fulfill their potential.

“It can definitely be carried over if we maintain the same urgency as a crew,” Gilman said. “Sometimes, due to human nature, we take a deep breath when good things are happening. This week we’re going to talk about “Let’s keep building”. ”

Despite three straight losses, Tennessee appears to be making this build-up process a bit more complicated for the Chargers’ defense. Only four teams run the ball at a higher percentage rate than the Titans, their offense usually relying on Derrick Henry’s powerful legs.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry carries the ball December 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry carries the ball December 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

(Peter Joneleit/Associated Press)

The Chargers are tied with the New York Giants at the bottom of the league in yards allowed (5.4) per rush. They’re delivering 147 yards per game on the ground, which is 28th place.

“Everyone knows they’re a big running team,” Gilman said. “It’s up to us to stop them. I think we’re up for the challenge. We know the narrative that’s out there. But we are looking forward to this game.”

The Chargers achieved not only their best defensive performance of the season, but also their most emotional triumph. Her joy in overcoming the dolphins was most evident in the actions of Justin Herbert.

Usually as level as the midfield streak, the team’s third-year quarterback struggled late for a crucial conversion and then marked the moment by getting up and dramatically signaling for a first down.

Herbert later entered the locker room with a commemorative football presented to him by NBC during his on-field interview after the game. As the room watched, he suddenly poked the thing as cheers erupted.

“I walked in there and everyone was kind of looking at me for something to do,” Herbert explained. “So I felt like that was the right move. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have spiked it… It was a lot of fun. I think the guys enjoyed it.”

When asked why he was concerned about what he was doing, Herbert said, “I didn’t want to disregard football or ‘Sunday Night Football.’ The logo was on it. I didn’t want to disrespect the Sunday night team.”

In fact, after what felt like a statement win, the exclamation point seemed appropriate.

Now the Chargers must regroup and once again announce their intentions. Chargers’ playoff hopes lean big on win over Tennessee Titans

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