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Bolts Start Playoff Journey On the Road in Jacksonville

Week in Review Wild Card

The regular season has come to an end.

Following their regular season finale in Denver, the Chargers begin their preparation for their Wild Card Round matchup against the Jaguars.

Here's a breakdown of news from the Chargers 19th week of the season:

Monday: All eyes on Jacksonville

The Chargers schedule is set Super Wild Card Weekend.

Despite knowing they would play the Jaguars prior to kickoff, dates and times of the first round of playoff games were announced Sunday night. The Bolts will be traveling to Jacksonville and playing in the Saturday night slot in their first playoff game since 2018.

While this does make this week a short week, the team is focused on keeping their same rhythm they would in a game week by adjusting and moving certain things up a day. The team will travel to Jacksonville on Friday, and Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley pointed out that the game being at night gives them some more time to get ready for the game.

"The benefit is that we don't have to be in a hurry on Friday," Staley said. "As you know, those East Coast trips, they are long. When we played Atlanta at 1 o'clock [p.m.], which is really 10 o'clock [a.m.], those are tight turnarounds.

"We are playing in the evening, so, hopefully, we'll be able to not be in any hurry on Friday," Staley added. "Then, be able to wake up on Saturday and have some time to decompress, and then get our minds right to go play."

This travel will be similar to the one they had in Week 16 when they traveled to Indianapolis, as kickoff won't be until 8:15 p.m. (ET) / 5:15 p.m. (PT).

"It will be similar. We'll be able to get in Friday evening and not be in a hurry to do anything," Staley said. "Whenever we have a night game, we do the team meeting stuff the day of the game.

"Friday, there won't be anything football-wise, per se, when we get to the hotel," Staley added. "Wake up on Saturday, have some meetings, and then get ready to go play."

It's a quick turnaround for the Chargers as their sights shift to the Jaguars. And on the injury front, they also got an update on wide receiver Mike Williams, who left Sunday's game in the second quarter.

"Mike's MRI confirmed that there is not a fracture nor a muscle injury, he just has a contusion," Staley said. "You will see him back at practice at some point this week."

Staley also updated linebacker Kenneth Murray, Jr., who also left the game on Sunday, and others.

"Kenneth [Murray] had a stinger," Staley said. "You will see him back at practice this week."

"Bryce [Callahan], you will see him back at practice this week," Staley later added. "Trey Pipkins [III] made it out of the game OK. I think that was it from the game."

Tuesday: Bolts begin Wild Card Practice

Although the good news won't affect the Chargers on the field this week, they did get a big update. Tackle Rashawn Slater was designated to return from Injured Reserve and would be back on the practice field on Tuesday.

"We're going to activate the 21-day [practice] window for Rashawn Slater," Staley said. "You will see him at practice.

"He is not going to play in this game, but we're going to open up the window for him to start practice," Staley. "He is progressing well. We're excited to get him back out there with the football team."

With Slater back on the field practicing, his outlook looks good. But first, the team is focused on this weekend's game and taking care of the Wild Card Game.

Saturday night will be Chargers-Jaguars Round 2, but this time in Jacksonville.

Both teams look and play very different compared to when they first met back in Week 3, a meeting the Jags won after pulling away in the second half. Wide receiver Keenan Allen and center Corey Linsley were inactive for that game and the Bolts also lost outside linebacker Joey Bosa, Slater and wide receiver Jalen Guyton during the game. Herbert was also playing his first game with fractured rib cartilage.

"I feel like we've evolved and changed," Linsley said about the Chargers now compared to Week 3. "I feel like we're different and better team now, but this team that we're going up against, we knew that they were good in Week 3 and they're still a very good team, especially on defense.

"They're physical, tough bunch that deserves all of your attention in every situation, so we're going to have to bring our stuff," Linsley added.

More than three months later, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence also looks different this time around.

"Just more experience; more time on task, more familiarity with their skill group," Staley said about Lawrence. "Their skill group has been intact the whole season, so him having that chemistry with that skill group."

"He is the same player that he has been his whole life. Coming out of Cartersville, Georgia, he has always been a really good distributor, a guy that is a playmaker, a guy that can play well in the clutch. He is having a great season."

The Chargers enter their first playoff game since 2018 with only six members of the last playoff roster currently on the team. The playoff experience is mixed, but the team is built around having both players and coaches with big game experience.

The ability to lean on other members of the team is something that is important as they enter Saturday night.

"That type of experience, where it's your brothers that have gone through it — it's always the most impactful, the players who have gone through it," Staley said. "I think that we have a really good combination on our coaching staff of guys who have been in Super Bowls and guys that have been in the NFL Playoffs, National Championship Games in college.

"You lean on all of that experience. Our players know that," Staley added. "Since we've gotten here, we've had that type of atmosphere, where you can really trust the people that you're around and bring out the best in one another."

On Tuesday, the Bolts conducted a walkthrough, so the injury report is an estimation. Williams did not participate, but everyone else would have practiced in full.

Check out the best shots as the Chargers wrapped up their regular season slate in Denver against the Broncos

Wednesday: Keys to Saturday; Slater speaks for first time since injury

In the inaugural Players' All-Pro Team, Chargers safety Derwin James, Jr., was voted by his peers as the best player at strong safety. Every active NFL player had the opportunity to cast their vote and select the first ever Players' All-Pro Team. In addition to voting for players at their position or that they line up against, among the rules were that players cannot vote for themselves or teammates and could not have missed five or more games before Week 15.

To read the full First-Team, click here.

Wednesday served as the middle of the week for the Chargers ahead of their Wild Card matchup on Saturday.

There's a lot of excitement when the playoffs come around, but one of the keys is making sure it is under control. That is something Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi talked about, although it might be a playoff game, trust the same routine that brought them to this point.

"There is, obviously, a little added adrenaline in something like this," Lombardi said. "Over the course of the year, you have developed a routine and you stick to the routine.

"What you have done has gotten you here, so don't try to make it much different, I think," Lombardi later added. "Hopefully, the importance of the game, you are able to filter out the distractions a little bit better, maybe, than you are over a 17-game season. Keep doing what you have been doing, basically."

Defensively, the team got a glimpse of the different targets the Jaguars had in their early-season matchup. While that could feel like a long time ago, the multiple targets on the Jacksonville offense is something that defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill is well-aware of.

"I think that's the biggest thing, that they do have a lot of different targets and they do spread the ball around," Hill said. "They feature them in all different types of ways. We have to have our attention up when certain guys are in certain locations. They have a good way of using all of those guys and they all have a special trait.

"We have to make sure our guys are tuned in," Hill said. "It's going to be our preparation and execution to go out there and get the job done this week. We all have an assignment, and we have to know their assignments and how they use their guys and deploy them and be ready for that challenge."

Though he won't play on Saturday, Slater spoke for the first time since his bicep injury in Week 3. The Chargers designated Slater to return from Injured Reserve on Tuesday, activating a 21-day practice window.

The Pro Bowl left tackle talked about his injury, stating that he knew the recovery timetable for such an injury, and gave himself two options as he began his rehab process.

"I always had the mindset that I was either going to get a good jump on the offseason or that I was going to come back," Slater said. "Thankfully the guys played really hard and gave me an opportunity to come back.

"It's been a really smooth process and I'm glad to be back out there," Slater added.

Slater practiced for the first time this week, and while he didn't give a percentage of what his health is, he did mention that he is feeling strong and taking mental reps throughout his recovery process.

Would Slater return if the Chargers win on Saturday? Slater said he is unsure, but regardless of the result, he is prepared to be even better upon his return.

"I'm not sure yet, we're kind of just slowly working me back into it," Slater said. "We'll see how it goes."

He later added: "My vision that fueled me was to come back a better player than when I left," Slater said.

Chargers Senior Writer Eric Smith released his weekly mailbag on Wednesday, where he answered questions about the X-factors on Saturday, Van Noy's impact and more.

Smith also wrote about the nine free agent additions that helped the Bolts make a playoff push. To read the article, click here.

Check out the best photos of the Chargers Wednesday practice at Hoag Performance Center

Thursday: Chargers wrap up practice ahead of travel day

Another member of the Bolts earned AFC Player of the Month honors.

Rookie kicker Cameron Dicker was announced as the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for December/January by the league office on Thursday morning. This comes after Dicker was nearly perfect to end the season, going 11-12 on field goals and 14-14 on extra points.

Dicker is the seventh member of the Chargers, and first since Darren Sproles in 2008, to win AFC Special Teams Player of the Month.

On Thursday, Chargers Senior Writer Eric Smith detailed one of the biggest defining moments of the season that helped propel this playoff game. Following a Sunday Night Football loss to the 49ers, Staley met with two of the team's star players.

Smith wrote:

Almost nobody saw the conversation take place.

But for the three men that were involved, it was perhaps a season-defining moment that helped the Chargers carve out a path to the postseason.

Back on November 13, the visiting locker room at Levi's Stadium was nearly empty.

Just as Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley was about to head for the bus, he took a brief moment — maybe 90 seconds at most — to meet with two of his star players.

The Chargers took the field for one more practice before the team traveled to Jacksonville on Friday morning.

The team remains focused as kickoff gets closer, as preparation and consistency to approach has been some of the team's strong suits all year — and nothing has changed this week.

"The vibe is good right now," Staley said. "Focus is good, where it should be. We have prepared well. This is a really good group of guys that has played a lot now a lot together, been in the fight.

"Our preparation has been premium all year long," Staley added. "One of the strengths of our football team is the consistency of it. This week was really clean. I know our guys are excited to play and that is what you want for your team. You want them excited to play. I know we'll be ready."

The mindset this week has been the same they have taken all season and they continue to do what led them to this point.

When asked how much extra fire he had for Saturday since it is a playoff game, Herbert upheld that mindset.

"That's a good question, but if there was extra fire in my belly this week, it would imply that I didn't have enough during the regular season," Herbert said on Thursday. "I think we're treating it like another game because we gave our best effort week in and week out.

"This is just another great opportunity to go play football and this team is special," Herbert added. "We're looking forward to the challenge, the opportunity of going out there and playing football."

The only player with an injury designation was Williams, who did not practice on Thursday and was listed as "QUESTIONABLE".

"He's progressing, getting treatment," Staley said. "Trying to get him as must rest as possible before Saturday. We're hoping he can make it to the game."

Staley later added: "We're at that point of the season where the reps aren't what matters, the rest is."

Members of the Jaguars also talked about the Chargers ahead of their Wild Card matchup. Check out what Jacksonville said about the Bolts.

Check out the best photos of the Chargers Thursday practice at Hoag Performance Center

Videos of the Week

Mic'd Up | Alohi Gilman

Chargers safety Alohi Gilman was mic'd up during the Week 18 game in Denver against the Broncos.

Playmakers | Lindsey Thiry on the Chargers' Wild Card Weekend Matchup

The ESPN NFL reporter joins Hayley Elwood on the latest edition of Playmakers podcast to discuss her overall thoughts on Chargers vs. Jaguars, the impact of playoff experience and more.

Chargers Weekly | Previewing Saturday's Rematch Against the Jaguars on Super Wild Card Weekend

Matt "Money" Smith and Chris Hayre look back at the Week 3 matchup between the Bolts and Jaguars and preview Saturday's Wild Card matchup.

Third Wheel | Michael Davis and Alohi Gilman

Cornerback Michael Davis and safety Alohi Gilman join host and quarterback Chase Daniel to see how much they know about their teammates in a three-round battle on this episode of Third Wheel.

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