The Chargers are 1-0 following a 24-19 home win over the Raiders.
Here are five takeaways from the Bolts victory to open the 2022 season:
1. The defense came up clutch
Ever since Khalil Mack was acquired in an offseason trade, the thought of pairing him up with Joey Bosa was an enticing one for the Chargers.
And with the game on the line Sunday, it was that tandem that came up clutch.
The Chargers led 24-19 with just over two minutes left, but the Raiders had third-and-3 at their own 40. Bosa teamed with Morgan Fox to bring down Derek Carr, with Bosa knocking the ball loose.
The Raiders recovered but lost five critical yards, bringing up fourth-and-8. It was then Mack's time to put the cherry on top of a dazzling debut, as he got to Carr and forced a fumble for his third sack of the day.
"We had to knuckle up," Mack said. "Especially in the fourth quarter against Derek. I've seen him do it many times in the fourth quarter, and I know what it's going to take."
"Just playing ball, man. The coverage guys were doing an excellent job," mack later added. "It's been awhile since I've got coverage sacks. They were balling. I know Derek was looking for [Davante Adams]. They had a special game."
Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said the defense's performance down the stretch is what the Bolts envisioned when they revamped their defense this offseason.
"Our defense rose to the occasion today," Staley said, "When they got the ball, and it's 24-19, and they have a chance to finish the game, your defense has to come through and close it out, and that's exactly what happened today for us."
Overall, Mack and Bosa combined 4.5 sacks, with five QB hits and a pair of forced fumbles.
Chargers safety Derwin James, Jr., summed up his first game with Mack as a teammate.
"Three sacks? Bro, come on. He's different," James said. "He's an alpha, a dog, a leader in the locker room. It's everything. He's the complete package and we're lucky to have him."
Staley said Mack's performance was something he's seen before in previous stops.
"There's nothing extra with Khalil Mack," Staley said. "Khalil Mack is that way all the time. This is just your first time seeing it."
The win was sweet for Mack, who missed more than half of the 2021 season due to injury.
"Just understanding what last year was with it being cut short and not being able to be myself on the field," Mack said. "I was looking forward to this game."
Yet with a short turnaround on deck, Mack was already turning the page to focus on Thursday's primetime game against the Chiefs.
"It's just one game," Mack said. "Anybody can have one good game, so what? Onto the next one."
One final note: the Chargers allowed just 64 rushing yards Sunday, which would have been their third-lowest total from a season ago.
2. Justin Herbert wasn't sacked
While Bosa and Mack filled up the stat sheet (and secured the win), the Raiders elite tandem of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones were shut out in the sack department.
That duo combined for three hits on Justin Herbert, but the Bolts offensive line prevented them from bringing down the Chargers quarterback with the ball.
"It was a hard-fought game in the trenches," said Chargers right tackle Trey Pipkins III. "This game is going to be a good indicator of how tough and rugged this division is.
"Anytime you don't give up any sacks, you feel good," Pipkins added. "But there are some pressures and stuff we can avoid. You have to look at it honestly with yourself and make sure you can improve on it."
Center Corey Linsley said he was proud of how the Chargers bookends — Pipkins and Rashawn Slater — held up in pass protection.
"I felt like Rashawn gets a lot of publicity deservingly, he's a dude out there," Linsley said. "Trey, for him to step up like he did, show out. Those are elite edge rushers.
"I'm sure if you watch the film, I'm sure we had some help on certain plays but there's going to be a time where you have to step up, and they did," Linsley added. "It's awesome."
Staley credited the entire offensive unit for helping mitigate Jones and Crosby, a duo with 130-plus combined sacks.
"Well, the reason why Maxx and Chandler have a lot of chatter is because they've earned it. They're two of the top players in the league. Certainly, at the front of our minds," Staley said. "They both played really good games for them. They're just really tough play to against. It takes all 11 to be able to take on those two guys.
"I thought that our offense really competed," Staley added. "I thought that our O-line, [guard] Zion [Johnson] in his first start, just going out there against a group like that and being able to perform. Those five guys playing together, our protection plan, that was outstanding."
Herbert played a role in the zero sacks, too, using his athleticism to scramble around and evade pressure.
The quarterback was on point to kick off Year 3, throwing for 279 yards with three scores and no interceptions. His passer rating was 129.4, the fourth-best mark of his young career.
"Justin using his legs and the receivers and backs doing a good job of getting open. It was a tough game," Staley said. "It was just one of those tough NFL football games today. A well-played game by both teams."
Herbert added: "No sacks, we moved the ball well, we ran the ball well. We needed to be more consistent in the second half, but I thought the offensive line played really well today."
3. Team effort in Allen's absence
Keenan Allen flashed his usual skillset in the opening half, with four catches for 66 yards.
But the wide receiver's day was cut short with a hamstring injury, and he said after the game he will "possibly" play Thursday in Kansas City.
With Allen missing more than half the game, Herbert spread the ball around to multiple playmakers. In fact, seven different players were targeted four times by Herbert throughout the game.
DeAndre Carter finished with three catches for 64 yards and a score, while Gerald Everett had three receptions for 54 yards while also finding the end zone.
Josh Palmer and Mike Williams each had four targets, as did Austin Ekeler.
"I think a great thing we do is we're able to shuffle guys around and play multiple positions," Herbert said. "Keenan is an incredible athlete. Definitely tough to play without him, but when you put in DeAndre Carter and you're able to change [WR] Josh Palmer from Z to X, [WR] Mike [Williams] can play all of those positions, too.
"Then, Gerald, you have another tight end there that can make some plays," Herbert added. "You have guys that are interchangeable and able to step up when someone goes down."
Staley said: "A couple of guys that stand out to me is when Keenan went down. DeAndre Carter, comes in and has a huge touchdown, has a couple of huge catches for us. He gave us a huge lift. Then, all of the receivers that had to step up when Keenan goes out, those four guys holding the rope for us, I thought that was really, really big in the game."
4. Samuel, Callahan earn Staley's praise
The Chargers intercepted Carr three times Sunday, with Asante Samuel, Jr., Bryce Callahan and Drue Tranquill each taking the ball away once.
The three interceptions would have been a season-high in 2021 for the Chargers.
For Tranquill, it was the first interception of his career. Samuel notched his third-career pick, while Callahan recorded No. 7 in his career.
Staley had praise for his cornerbacks after a pair of game-changing plays in the second half.
Samuel's interception came when he motored into coverage on a deep pass attempt to Adams.
"Proud of Asante. That interception is about as good as you're going to see in the NFL. He's capable of that," Staley said. "He's playing with confidence. He's fearless.
"He got beat a couple of times out there today, but it doesn't bother him, which I love," Staley added. "There's going to be a lot of things on the film that he learns from because those are a lot of outstanding players that he's playing against, but he's a competitor and he can get you the ball. Those are two good things in this league. I'm proud of him."
Callahan, meanwhile, was with Staley in Chicago earlier in his career. His pick came when he trailed Hunter Renfrow across the field before stepping in front of Carr's pass.
"Bryce Callahan is one of the top inside defenders in the league, and he has been since 2015," Staley said. "You guys are all seeing why we brought him here and why we have so much faith and confidence in him.
"He's a prime-time player, and he can do a lot of things out there that help you win games," Staley added. "I'm really proud of him. I know that taking the field with him, it's a great feeling, as a coach."
5. A good start on special teams
Staley was asked right off the top of his press conference about the depth it took to win Sunday.
The first player Staley mentioned? Punter JK Scott.
"Starting in the kicking game, us onboarding JK Scott and what he was able to do for us in the punt game," Staley said, "netting almost 49 yards [per punt], a punt inside the 2-yard-line, the hangtime, forcing fair catches.
"The operation was really critical to our success," Staley added.
Scott, who only played in one game in 2021, was added as a free agent this offseason.
Here's how his four punts fared Sunday:
Punt No. 1: 49 yards, downed at the 2, no return.
Punt No. 1: 51 yards, 4-yard return to the 23.
Punt No. 1: 49 yards, fair catch at the 40.
Punt No. 1: 47 yards, 0-yard return to the 21.
Get an inside look at the postgame celebration from the Chargers 24-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders to kick-off the 2022 season!!
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