Chargers takeaways: Playoffs within reach after win over Arizona

The Chargers scored a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final 20 seconds on Sunday to defeat Arizona 25-24 at State Farm Stadium.

The fourth-quarter comeback was quarterback Justin Herbert’s 10th career and the game-winning drive was his 12th.

At 6-5, the Chargers are ninth in the AFC. They have the same record as New England and are a game behind Cincinnati and the New York Jets. They play 4-7 in Las Vegas on Sunday, a 40-34 winner in Sunday’s overtime in Seattle.

A few last-minute observations on the Chargers’ win:

One of the last to know: As dramatic as his final touchdown was, running back Austin Ekeler didn’t even realize he’d reached the end zone until he looked at the scoreboard as the Chargers jostled each other with 15 seconds left.

Ekeler initially concluded that officers had thought he was short-circuited and the Chargers were close to firing another shot.

“I thought we were still trying to get a touchdown,” he later admitted. “I was like, ‘Okay guys, we have to score. Come on.’ ”

Ekeler managed to hit the front pylon with the ball as he was being dragged to the ground by Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons. However, the nearest officer did not give an initial signal.

All-rounder Durwin does it again: Safety Derwin James Jr. caused the game’s only two turnovers, forcing James Conner to fumble in the first quarter and intercepting a pass thrown by Kyler Murray in the second.

The Chargers didn’t capitalize on the fumble, recovered by Sebastian Joseph-Day, but turned the interception into a touchdown as they came back from a 10-0 deficit to take a 14-10 lead.

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. (3) intercepts a ball intended for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Pharoh Cooper.

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. (3) intercepts a ball intended for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Pharoh Cooper.

(Rick Scuteri/Associated Press)

“I thought Durwin James was fantastic in the game,” said coach Brandon Staley. “[He’s] only our hearts and souls in defense.”

James finished third on the team with eight tackles behind Alohi Gilman (10, career best) and Drue Tranquill (nine). Gilman started for injured safety Nasir Adderley (thumb).

Staley also praised the play of cornerback Michael Davis, who finished with six tackles, two smashed passes and his first career sack – in his 84th NFL game.

Davis was ruled questionable Friday with a knee injury.

Run ‘D’ back down: The Chargers struggled defensively. They gave up 181 rushing yards and averaged 5.3 yards per attempt. Arizona also converted seven of his first 10 third downs.

Conner finished with 120 yards in 25 tries and Murray had 56 in seven rushes. The Cardinals had three running games, each gaining at least 18 yards.

“Didn’t do the quarterback well enough,” Staley said. “That was disappointing.”

Staley was also not pleased with two red-zone errors, the Chargers gave up a five-yard touchdown run on Murray 12 seconds before halftime and a six-yard pass by Murray to Conner early in the fourth quarter.

“We’re a better unit than that,” Staley said.

The Chargers are 29th against the run and 26th in third place for the season.

The defense rose when it really mattered, keeping Arizona scoreless in their last four possessions.

Particularly special teams: The Chargers’ improved special teams game in 2022 continued late with some key moments.

Punter JK Scott pinned Arizona at his 10 yard line with 2:19 remaining. The Cardinals took just 31 seconds over three games to stab the ball back.

That punt was the one that led to DeAndre Carter’s best 20-yard return of the season and set up the offense for his game-winning drive.

The Chargers' DeAndre Carter (1) runs for a touchdown while Arizona's Isaiah Simmons (9) pursues.

The Chargers’ DeAndre Carter (1) runs for a touchdown while Arizona’s Isaiah Simmons (9) pursues. Carter had career-high catches and yards and set up the crucial touchdown with a 20-yard punt return.

(Rick Scuteri/Associated Press)

Then, after scoring, Cameron Dicker executed what Staley called a “mortar kick,” delivering the ball to the Arizona 13 and forcing Pharoh Cooper to return it. The game lasted four seconds, leaving the Cardinals offense with just 11 seconds.

Running almost empty: The Chargers’ inability to sustain a running offense will apparently be a story for a season. They finished for 65 yards in just 13 attempts.

Herbert was by far her most effective runner, totaling 38 yards in four carries. Their three running backs combined for 27 yards in nine tries. The Chargers rank 30th in the league at an average of 85.8 rushing yards per game.

After suffering a fractured rib cartilage in week 2, Herbert’s mobility was compromised until the last few games. He was a willing runner on Sunday, running for 23 yards on one game and 15 on another scramble.

Those two victories were the Chargers’ longest on-site wins for the game.

In his own words: “It’s wild. We can’t say why it’s happening. Eventually we took advantage and made enough plays to move the dang ball there and get it in the end zone. – Ekeler about the Chargers’ point problems in the second half. Chargers takeaways: Playoffs within reach after win over Arizona

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