Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are reunited, lift Chargers

The Chargers defeated Miami 23-17 on Sunday night, improving to 7-6 and moving up to seventh and final playoff spot in the AFC for at least a day. If the New England guest defeats Arizona on Monday night, the Patriots will take seventh place.

The win was the Chargers’ first over an opponent with a winning record, and the Dolphins came into the game 8-4.

The Chargers play 7-6 Tennessee at SoFi Stadium next weekend before taking on 4-8-1 Indianapolis at Monday Night Football the day after Christmas.

They finish the regular season at home against the 4-9 Rams (Jan. 1) and then at the 3-10 Denver (Jan. 7 or 8).

Some observations on her recent win:

Top targets are (finally) joining forces again: Mike Williams returned after missing most of the last five games with a high ankle sprain and the difference was obvious early on.

In the Chargers’ inaugural series, Williams adjusted mid-air to make a brilliant catch against Miami cornerback Xavien Howard, a three-time Pro Bowl pick. The play went for 23 yards, converting a third and a nine.

“Justine [Herbert] gave me an opportunity to make a game,” Williams said of his quarterback. “I love situations like this, one-on-one. I feel like the ball is mine. I was just able to play it.”

Williams later added a touchdown on a 10-yard reception. He also had a 55-yard catch in the third quarter. Williams finished with six receptions for 116 yards.

Sunday marked the first time this season the Chargers started and finished a game healthy with Williams and Keenan Allen — their top two wide receivers.

Williams said his ankle hardened late in the game but otherwise felt fine.

“I just wanted the whole game available to my team,” he said, “just making plays and helping us win.”

Record holder Herbert rolls on: Four games to go, Herbert overtook Andrew Luck for most yards passed by a player in his first three NFL seasons. Herbert’s total is now 13,056.

“He just keeps getting better,” Allen said. “He’s just getting started. He’s about to blow this league away.”

Herbert was 39 for 51 for 367 yards. That’s his single-game high for completions and his fourth-best single-game mileage.

“He’s the X factor,” Williams said. “He’s been doing this since he got here. Everyone knows what type of player he is. He’s a leader on this team. We just have to keep following him.”

One of Herbert’s biggest — and most accurate — moves came when Allen converted a crucial third down in the fourth quarter, all but sealing the win.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert prepares to throw against the Dolphins.

Justin Herbert prepares to throw against the Dolphins. The Chargers quarterback set the NFL record for most yards in a player’s first three NFL seasons.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

Herbert led the offense on a 17-play march for 79 yards that lasted 8:39 and ended with a 28-yard field goal from Cameron Dicker, giving the Chargers two points – 23-14 – with 2: 40 before the end went into the lead.

Along the way, the Herbert converted a third and five and a third and three with completions into an allen and a third and eight by scrambling for 10 yards.

“Playing the game he always plays,” Allen said. “He always plays with that confidence. He always does these plays. We were able to capitalize on many of them.”

Let’s get physical: In the face of some extreme speed — notably in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle — the Chargers squeezed Miami’s top two wide receivers, making things difficult for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Cornerbacks Asante Samuel Jr. and Michael Davis broke passes as the Chargers advanced on the Dolphins.

“Don’t let fast guys run down the field,” said Chargers coach Brandon Staley when asked to explain the team’s strategy. “When you have fast guys running across the field and running them through zones where no one is around, it becomes a race track competition.

“Guess what? You’re not as fast as them. Nobody is. Nobody is as fast as them. That’s why you see them do what they do to people because they’re really, really good. If you want a chance , you have to get closer to them.”

Hill had four receptions for 81 yards, 60 of which came on a play when Davis was in cover and fell when the ball arrived. Waddle had just two catches for 31 yards.

More defensive dominance: The Chargers held Miami on three, three and outs, including two on the Dolphins’ first three possessions.

Kyle Van Noy had his first sack as a Charger and Morgan Fox had a sack that resulted in a 12-yard loss. Both finished in third place and forced punts.

“It was a hell of a game plan by our defensive team led by Renaldo Hill,” Staley said of his coordinator. “All the guys that played tonight were dying to play a full game. We knew if we played the way we play it would look like this.”

The Chargers limited Miami to three for 11 in third, the 27.3% win rate was the best performance of the season for Staley’s defense.

The Dolphins finished the game with just 49 offensive plays, compared to 78 for the Chargers, who had more than 19 minutes of possession advantage.

Records, records, records: Sunday marked Allen’s 10th career game with 12 or more catches, an NFL record. He’d gone into the game level with Wes Welker at nine.

With eight receptions, Austin Ekeler took his career total to 375, the most for an undrafted running back in the joint draft era dating back to 1967.

Ekeler has 93 catches for the season, the most of his career and also an NFL record for a running back through 13 games.

Herbert’s 39 completions were the second most in a game by a Chargers quarterback. Philip Rivers completed 43 passes against Green Bay in 2015.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-12-12/chargers-dolphins-takeaways-mike-williams-keenan-allen-justin-herbert Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are reunited, lift Chargers

Emma Bowman

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