These new Chargers already paying dividends in win over Raiders

The Chargers opened the season on Sunday with a 24-19 win over Las Vegas at SoFi Stadium.

Justin Herbert and Khalil Mack starred in a day the Chargers were never behind, producing the game’s only three turnovers.

Here’s what else stood out:

New chargers contribute to this

Herbert’s touchdown passes went to newcomers Zander Horvath, DeAndre Carter, and Gerald Everett. Horvath was a seventh-round pick in April, and Carter and Everett were both free-agent signings.

Herbert threw to Horvath in the left flat early in the second quarter for a one-yard score. The rookie full-back would have been an unlikely pre-game choice to stand on the other end of Herbert’s first shot on goal of the season.

“I’m sure a lot of people didn’t expect that,” Horvath said. “Great play call. I was just running, doing my thing in there, doing what I’m supposed to do.

The Everett touchdown was much more noticeable. After a play-action fake, Herbert rolled left as two Raiders defenders closed. Without stopping, he fired the ball at Everett’s back shoulder.

The veteran tight end made the catch just inside the five-yard line and then worked his way through Las Vegas safety Roderic Teamer, who is a former Charger, and into the end zone.

“It was really a simple piece,” Everett said. “That was all Justin. I was just trying to be there for the guy. … The scramble, the keeping his eyes down, the ball placement, going over his reads. I looked up and the ball was in the air.”

Carter filled in Allen’s shoes

Carter finished the game with three catches for 64 yards, his touchdown coming after 23 yards in the last minute of the first half.

He emerged after Keenan Allen lost late in the second quarter to a hamstring injury.

“As soon as I got out, ‘Dre would come in and do plays,” Allen said. “It’s nice to see when you go out. The offensive did not falter at all. They kept things going. You kept things moving.”

Carter signed as the Chargers’ main returnee during the offseason, something he failed to show on Sunday. He caught a punt fairly and had no kickoff return.

Defensive reunion a big help

The Chargers rebuilt their defense in the offseason by adding several players who have had success playing for coach Brandon Staley in the past, including Mack, slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, and defensemen Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox.

A year ago, the defense struggled due to an unfamiliarity with Staley’s scheme and the inability of some players to properly fit into the scheme. As injuries mounted, the Chargers’ lack of depth was exposed.

“That was our vision to build a complete defensive football team,” Staley said on Sunday. “I think what you saw out there today was a full defensive football team. Its a lot to do.”

Asked specifically about the newcomers’ performance, Staley said he saw exactly what he thought he saw. Along with Mack’s three sacks, Callahan had five tackles and an interception, and Fox shared a sack with Joey Bosa.

“I’ve seen these guys do it all,” Staley said. “It was nothing new for me. I told the team that. These guys played like they always play, like I’ve always seen them play. … I’m just glad everyone got to see it today.”

Bryce Callahan was great at the slot

Along with his interception, Callahan was instrumental in restricting Las Vegas wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow, a 2021 Pro Bowl player, wasn’t targeted until late in the third quarter.

Chargers cornerbacks Bryce Callahan (23) and Asante Samuel Jr. (26) team up against Raiders receiver Mack Hollins.

Chargers cornerbacks Bryce Callahan (23) and Asante Samuel Jr. (26) team up against Raiders receiver Mack Hollins.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

He finished with three catches for 21 yards. When these teams met in Week 18 last season, Renfrow had two touchdowns.

“Bryce Callahan is one of the best central defenders in the league and has been since 2015,” Staley said. “You all can see why we brought him here and why we have so much faith and trust in him.

“He’s a prime-time player and he can do a lot of things out there that help you win games. I’m really proud of him. I know it’s a great feeling as a coach to go onto the field with him.”

Samuel made an impact

Asante Samuel Jr. had some tough stretches as Davante Adams caught 10 passes for 141 yards on his Las Vegas debut. However, the sophomore corner ended in four tackles and two passes slapped away. He also had his third career interception.

Early in the fourth quarter, Derek Carr tried to get deep into Adams. Samuel broke away from the man he was marking when Carr established and tracked the ball and picked it up inside the Chargers’ five-yard line.

“That interception is about as good as you’re going to see in the NFL,” Staley said. “He’s capable of it. He plays confidently. He is fearless. He got hit a few times outside today but he doesn’t mind which I love.”

Samuel also had a brief falling out with Adams after a game.

“I like that,” said teammate Derwin James Jr. “It’s part of football. He definitely has it all. I like this.”

Durwin James can fire

James had the first of the Chargers’ six sacks, dropping Carr on the Raiders’ second offensive game.

He walked around to the left of Kolton Miller, who was fighting Mack at the time, and then ran over Josh Jacobs before climbing on top of Carr and tripping him.

“Look at that in the movie because this man is special,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said of James. “He’s just an incredible player. Deserves everything he just got in this contract and more.

Last month, James signed an extension adding four years and $76 million — $42 million in total in guarantees — to his rookie deal.

Punter JK Scott impressed

Punter JK Scott also had an impressive debut for the Chargers, his first try being knocked down at the Las Vegas two-yard line.

Scott averaged 49 yards on four punts. Renfrow returned two of those punts for just four total yards and had a fair catch.

“The surgery,” Staley said, “was really critical to our success.” These new Chargers already paying dividends in win over Raiders

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