How Khalil Mack has been stealing the show on Chargers’ defense

With the drive approaching five minutes Sunday, Atlanta’s offense moved from his 32-yard line into the Chargers’ 10.

The Falcons had played through nine plays, one of which — a 38-yard touchdown run — was wiped out by a penalty.

Huffing and puffing on the other side of the scrimmage line, the Chargers needed a break, both literally and figuratively.

So Khalil Mack took matters – and football – into his own hands.

“I’ve seen a long drive turned into something that was by them Great,‘ said defense attorney Christian Covington. “We were all dead tired from this piece. Just to see Khalil Mack do what Khalil Mack does, we were all full of energy.”

After falling into pass coverage, one of the NFL’s best rushers of his day caught up with Atlanta wide receiver Drake London and simply took the ball from the rookie.

Mack turned and walked in the opposite direction, teammate Sebastian Joseph-Day joked Wednesday that Mack was so exhausted he looked like a player on the Madden NFL video game running out of gas.

“Khalil was probably so sick of it,” Joseph-Day said. “‘Man, I have to end this somehow.’ It was a nightmare out there. He took matters into his own hands. Love it. That’s why he’s elite.”

Joseph-Day pushed Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota into the game, saying he didn’t realize what Mack had done until he saw a replay on the overhead video board at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I just heard people screaming,” Joseph-Day said. “I didn’t know what had happened. I looked and he ran down the sidelines. It was just a ‘thank you’. That stuff hurt. We milled out there.”

Chargers defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, right, pursues Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (84).

Chargers defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, right, pursues Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (84).

(John Bazemore/Associated Press)

Mack hit London immediately after the snap before taking a step towards the middle of the field. After receiving the pass in the left flat, London turned up and ran into cornerback Michael Davis.

As London and Davis fought near the Chargers’ five-yard line, Mack lunged for the bat.

Covington said he’s only seen such cold-blooded takeaways in the NFL on highlights. Linebacker Drue Tranquill said after the game it’s been a while since he’s witnessed anything like this.

“I think the last time I saw someone just brush the ball off the open field and go the other way was probably minor league,” he said, smiling. “This guy is a freak. Just an amazing game from him.”

For a defense trying to emphasize turnovers, Mack’s game came at an ideal time and place, with Atlanta close to scoring a touchdown early in the second half that would have been a go-ahead.

The moment was also another highlight for Mack, who was the Chargers’ second-best defenseman for eight games, according to Pro Football Focus.

He leads the team with 23 pressings and six sacks and has the defense’s only two fumble recoveries.

After a season in which he missed ten games with a foot injury, Mack has played the fifth-most snaps among Chargers defensemen.

When asked what he thought of Mack, who is in his first season with the Chargers, Covington said, “The brother is coming as promised.”

The Chargers acquired Mack in a trade with Chicago in March, the deal being the first step in head coach Brandon Staley to rebuild his defense. Though the unit as a whole has collapsed at times, Mack has remained solid.

Earlier this season, he faced questions about what he had left at age 31 and nearing his ninth NFL season.

“In this league, people will say that the older you get, the slower you get,” Joseph-Day said. “But the big ones are great, you know. No offense but I think sometimes people get bored and look for things to say. This man has a lot left.”


  • Right tackle Trey Pipkins III was among the Chargers not practicing Wednesday as he continues to struggle with a left knee injury that he aggravated against Atlanta. Staley said Pipkins and reserve edge rusher Chris Rumph II (knee) are both likely “a game-time decision” for Sunday night in San Francisco.
  • The Chargers will be without wide receiver Mike Williams (ankle) this weekend, and fellow receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring) is also unlikely to play.
  • Staley said the Chargers plan to have Cameron Dicker kick the 49ers while Dustin Hopkins (hamstring) is out.
  • Defensive lineman Jerry Tillery did not practice Wednesday because of a personal matter, according to the Chargers injury report.
  • The Chargers added defenseman Breiden Fehoko to their active roster and added Austin Johnson (knee) to the injured reserve list. Johnson will be sidelined for the remainder of the season. How Khalil Mack has been stealing the show on Chargers’ defense

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