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5 Takeaways: Chargers Celebrate Playoff Berth, Know Plenty of Work Remains  


The Bolts are 9-6 and playoff-bound.

Here are five takeaways from a 20-3 Chargers win over the Colts:

1. Not satisfied yet

Step 1 is complete for the Chargers.

But there is still plenty of work to be done, even if the Bolts are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

"It's just the beginning. This is just the beginning. This is not our final goal," said Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley. "We expected to be at this point. I'm really proud of how this season has gone for our football team and what we've been able to demonstrate in order to make it into the postseason.

"That's probably what I'm most proud of," Staley added. "Not just being in it, but how we made it. What it took for us to get in. But this is just the beginning for us."

Justin Herbert added: "I think it's a great sign for all the hard work we put in this year. We've definitely dealt with our adversity, our fair share, but the story of the day was the defense stepping up big time, getting those stops. There's plenty of room for improvement for our offense, but it's a good sign of things to come."

Here's what other Chargers players had to say about clinching a playoff spot.

"To do it the way we did, it feels great," Alohi Gilman said. "But we're just getting started. We're going to celebrate this and then keep moving."

Keenan Allen added: "Everything we worked for, everything we were here for ... we are in the fight."

The Bolts began the year with playoff expectations but took a long and winding path to secure a spot.

The Chargers started 1-2 and dealt with a plethora of injuries to key players but rallied to get to 4-3 at the bye week.

But the middle portion of the season was filled with ups and downs, too, as a 5-3 record turned into 6-6 entering December.

Since then, the Bolts have rattled off three straight wins behind a red-hot defense and an offense that has made timely plays.

Staley on Monday night spoke about the guts and sacrifice it took for the Bolts to withstand a rigorous season and find themselves in the dance.

"I think the reason why we're here is the men on our football team — coaches, players — we've got the makeup to withstand the type of season that we've had," Staley said. "I think that we would not be here today if not for the toughness of our football team. The makeup of our football team.

"I think for far too long, people have talked about the talent of this football team and the organization. That's ultimately not what gets you where you want to go," Staley added. "You have to prove your toughness and that's what we've proven so far this year, that we have a tough enough football team — mentally and physically — to be where we are right now, which is in the tournament."

The Chargers will now finish off the season against the Rams and Broncos as they battle for playoff seeding.

"Our season is not over," Staley said. "We have two more games against really good teams and we need to search to play our best football so we can not only get in the playoffs, but make a run to a Super Bowl championship, which is what our goal is.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Staley added. "But I'm certainly proud of everybody in that locker room because today was a great day for our team."

2. The defense shines without James

The Chargers defense welcomed back Derwin James, Jr., in a big way in Week 16 as the safety recorded a leaping interception in the first quarter.

But James' night was done with just over five minutes left in the second quarter when he was called for a personal foul and ejected after a hit on wide receiver Ashton Dulin.

James went into the blue medical tent after the play and was later escorted to the locker room.

After the game, Staley said James was in the concussion protocol.

But he also defended James' hit and said there was no malicious intent on his player's part.

"I know Derwin's intent … you have to establish intent and I thought he tried to lead with the shoulder," Staley said.  "It's a play where he obviously laid the guy out in a tough position, but that's their fault, not ours. Derwin made an aggressive play.

"I know we all know Derwin is not going to try and do that to anybody," Staley added. "We'll have to look at it, but I know what Derwin's intentions are. I've seen him make a lot of tackles on plays just like that. I know that his target was not above the neck, I know that."

The Chargers praised the play of safeties Nasir Adderley and Alohi Gilman over the past two weeks with James out with a quad injury.

With James missing more than half of Monday night's game, those two filled in once again as the safeties on the back end.

And the defense locked down the Colts in primetime, allowing just 173 total yards while recording seven sacks and three interceptions. The Colts did not convert a first down on 10 third-down tries.

3. Allen making late-season impact

Keenan Allen is getting hot at the right time.

After missing most of the first half of the season with a hamstring injury, the veteran wide receiver is rounding into form during the stretch run.

He has at least six catches and 86 yards in his past four games, including a Monday-night performance that saw him haul in 11 passes for 104 yards. It was the first time this season that Allen has gone over the century mark.

Staley said: "I liked how we were able to locate Keenan today with 11 receptions."

In his past four contests, Allen now has 37 catches for 370 yards and a score.

Mike Williams added four receptions for 76 yards Monday, with each of his catches going for a first down.

Williams had a pair of 16-yard reception, plus and 18-yard catch and a 26-yard gain to highlight his impactful night.

"Mike had four big catches and we need to get more to Mike because we know what happens with Mike gets the football for us," Staley said.

4. Ups and downs on offense

Austin Ekeler summed it up succinctly.

"Offensively, we've got to be a lot better," Ekeler said. "That's not going to cut it in the playoffs."

Overall, the Bolts put up 314 total yards against the Colts. But there were a handful of miscues along the way that cost the offense more yards and more points along the way.

The Chargers longest play was the night was a 30-yard pass from Herbert to tight end Donald Parham, Jr. But it was negated due to a holding penalty.

"We've got to stay away from penalties. Had a lot of penalties that definitely inhibited our progress today," Staley said. "You get the explosive to DP. A couple procedure penalties where I thought we had good plays up. But we just have to be more consistent overall"

The Chargers were flagged four times for 35 yards on offense, but each was seemingly after a big play. 

The Bolts also turned the ball over twice on an interception and a lost fumble. The Chargers were a solid 44-percent on third downs, but they also found themselves in 18 plays on that down.

"There's a lot that goes into it. I think it's penalties, turnovers, being able to convert on third down," Herbert said. "When you are able to do all of that, you are able to move the ball.

"At times we've been able to show that, but, you know, we need to be more consistent, and it starts with our offense," Herbert said. "It's a great opportunity for us to get better."

And, the Bolts third-quarter touchdown drought continued, as the offense hasn't found the end zone right after halftime since Week 5.

5. Spanos gets game ball

Staley has been waiting for this moment.

He has given out game balls to numerous players this season, but the one he gave out Monday night wasn't to a player or coach. 

It went to Chargers Owner Dean Spanos.

"I've got one game ball here," Staley said in the postgame locker room. "We're a team run by a family. None of us would be here if it weren't for a special someone.

"I've been hoping to give him a game ball since I got here. I've been hoping," Staley added. 'He's been patient. He's invested in this team. He's brought all of us together. Look around, guys, we're all here because of him. Game ball … playoff appearance … Dean Spanos."

Spanos smiled wide when accepting the game ball and said he's not much for speeches, but noted he wants the team to end the season on a high note going into the postseason.

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