Chargers need a big time victory over the Raiders
Losing to the Houston Texans two weeks ago was the low for the Chargers this season, and there haven't been many, but that game put everything into perspective.
All season long, they sat in the playoff picture, and with the season two games away from ending, they had fallen off.
The team knew that they could kiss the playoffs goodbye if they lost either of the next two games. They went into playoff mode against the Denver Broncos, so this week isn't any different, mentality-wise, than last week.
"We knew what was at stake last week as well, so it's the same type of preparation and same type of mindset going into this game," defensive tackle Justin Jones said. "Every week is a playoff week for us. When it comes to our preparation, we're treating them the same exact way."
The Chargers played their style of football against the Broncos. They dominated on offense at times while also asserting their dominance on defense. They even had returner Andre Roberts take one back 101-yards for a touchdown. It was a complete three phases victory.
This weekend they head to Las Vegas to face their divisional rivals on Sunday Night Football. If either team wins, they are in the playoffs.
It will take another three-phase performance for the Chargers to win this game.
The offense will look towards their superstar quarterback Justin Herbert to lead them on Sunday. He has mastered the New Orleans Saints style of offense that offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi brought with him.
It is more intermediate routes and even check-downs, but since the win against Cincinnati, it seems like Lombardi has allowed Herbert to open it up more. Take more shots downfield like the 59-yard touchdown from Herbert to Guyton against the Giants.
Herbert had a lot of people split when he was drafted sixth overall in 2020.
He has been everything they had hoped for and more than that with him under center. He has been a touchdown machine for the organization in his first two seasons and is still learning how to play quarterback in the NFL.
Last season, their biggest issue was closing out some of their big leads. In the season's final four games, instead of going for the higher draft pick, the young quarterback learned how to close out games. He led the Chargers on a game-winning drive in three of his final four games.
One of those games was in Las Vegas against the Raiders on Thursday Night Football. Herbert led the offense on a game-winning drive and did a quarterback sneak to close it out. His famous "I was in" game.
"I think those moments from those games, you're able to learn from," Herbert said. "Close games like that, in those two-minute situations and overtime games —going through it and learning how to close games out at the end. That's something that we've had to learn this year and something that we did a poor job of last year."
It was like a struggling basketball player needing to see the ball go through the hoop once to get himself going.
Herbert has five game-winning drives in 2021. He has been masterful at the end of games, especially when getting the ball to receiver Mike Williams. They have connected on five go-ahead touchdowns this season, which is the most in NFL history.
"We're all looking forward to coming out on Sunday night and balling," Williams said.
The offense will be counting on their quarterback to consistently move the football on a Raiders defense that he has faced earlier in the year.
"I think with every game, we're really excited," Herbert said. "It's always a great opportunity to play our type of football. We've had our ups and downs this year, but we a good week of practice so far. A good week of preparation. That's what's important heading into Sunday night."
This is the biggest game of his NFL career and probably the most important game since the Rose Bowl in 2020. He led his Oregon Ducks to victory by scoring three rushing touchdowns. He finds ways to win.
The defense will have their work cut out for them as well. Two players that will be called up to lead are edge rusher Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James.
The Raiders offense has been moving the ball up the field, and they are familiar with quarterback Derek Carr. They sacked him four times in their week four matchup while also hitting him seven times.
Carr has five interceptions in the last four games, so if the pass rush can get after him, there might be opportunities to get some turnovers.
Numbers don't lie, and the numbers say Bosa loves playing against the Raiders. Bosa has seven sacks against them in eight career games plus 12 quarterback hits.
"I think we all know what's at stake here on both sides," Bosa said. "It's a huge game. These are the kinds of games that you wish you were playing this time of year — and we are this year. It's just a great opportunity for both sides. I think we all grasp that, for sure. I think all of the coaches have a really great sense of urgency along with everybody this week."
The secondary is healthy going into this week. They will need a collective effort against a good set of weapons that are at Carr's disposal. Zay Jones has emerged as a down-the-field receiver for the offense in the last few weeks.
Desean Jackson is also a member of this offense, and he knows how to take the top off of a defense. Their most crucial weapon is Hunter Renfrow, who has 99 catches for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns.
"We have to know where Renfrow is," James said. "He's a guy that gets open a lot. [Raiders QB] Derek Carr, it starts with him, so we have to be able to put pressure on him. We have to be ready for everything, whatever they present."
One unknown is whether tight end Darren Waller will play on Sunday. He has been dealing with numerous injuries and hasn't played since their Thanksgiving matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.
"He is a top-three tight end," James said.
In their first meeting, he gave them some trouble catching four passes for 50-yards and a touchdown. It is also unknown how much he will be able to play, but he is a weapon that the defense needs to keep an eye on.
So, it all comes down to Sunday night. If the Chargers can handle business the way they did against the Broncos, they will be headed to the playoffs for the first time in the Staley/Herbert era.
It will be loud at Allegiant Stadium, but the Chargers have won tough away games like Kansas City, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. They need to play a complete game while also not turning over the football.
"The guys on our team know the gravity of this game," Jones said. "They know it's easy to win, then you win. You win you're in, if you lose, you're going home. We've known that since last week, it's all the same for us."