The Bolts are 8-6 and headed into the hot stretch.
Here are five takeaways from Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley from his media availability Monday.
1. Chargers focused on themselves
The Bolts are trending in the right direction with just three games remaining.
The Chargers have won three of four games, including two straight at home against Miami and Tennessee, to improve to 8-6 and move into the sixth seed in the AFC.
And yes, the Bolts can indeed secure a playoff spot in Week 16 by virtue of a win combined with losses from the Jets, Patriots and Raiders.
But Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said Monday that he wants his team to focus solely on themselves down the home stretch.
"You're aware of what's going on in the NFL. I think what we're most aware of is what is happening with our team," Staley said. "We knew that, going into the second-half of the season, that we were going to have to make it happen. The AFC was tight at the bye. It's tight now. It's going to be tight at the end.
"Every team that we have played is in the hunt," Staley added. "When we played Atlanta, they were winning the division. San Francisco is having a great year. Kansas City. Arizona was fighting for their playoff lives. Las Vegas, Miami, Tennessee, they've all been big games. What we have to focus on is our team and the improvements."
The Chargers have weathered plenty of adversity and attrition this season, and have also found themselves in plenty of close contests.
The Bolts have played 11 one-score games this season, including seven straight after the bye week that Staley alluded to. The Chargers, by the way, are 7-4 overall in those games.
Staley said he expects more of the same in the final three contests, beginning Monday night in Indianapolis.
The Colts are 4-9-1 but are a feisty bunch under interim head coach Jeff Saturday.
"Giving full respect to our opponent. Indianapolis was up 33-to-nothing last week in an NFL game. That's very difficult to do," Staley said. "The reason why they were is because they have a lot of good players and they have a lot of good coaches.
"You see it all around the league, where these games are all tight — they're all tight, regardless of what the record is," Staley added. "That's why the NFL is special. You just have to keep your head down and put the focus on your opponent."
With three games left, Staley also noted he wants his team to play with the same effort and intensity they've displayed in the past two games.
Staley believes that's the biggest reasons for the Bolts recent surge.
"I'm very proud of our guys. The last two weeks, what I've really liked about our team is how hard we've played. I think we've played really, really, really hard," Staley said. "I think we're playing harder every game. I think that's important. If you're saying that as a coach, that's a good thing. You have to get your team to play hard at a high level.
"The execution isn't always going to be picturesque. The execution, you're searching for it. You'll get it in time," Staley continued. "You can fix a lot of the executional type of stuff if you're just playing hard and playing together. That's what we've been doing this whole season
"Now, what we have to do is get this execution as high as it can be down the stretch," Staley added. "That's what we're going to be searching to do here these last three weeks."
2. The defense is rolling
The Chargers have nearly faced the most polar opposite offensive attacks in the past two games.
The Dolphins rank fourth in the NFL in pass percentage, while the Titans are 28th in the same stat.
And yet, the Bolts defense rose to the occasion in back-to-back-games and seem to be playing their best ball of the season.
"One thing that I've liked about the last two weeks … I feel like you have to be able to match up with a lot of different styles in the league," Staley said. "I think your defense has to be able to carry itself to these new weeks.
"Miami and Tennessee could not be more different, but your defense has to be able to change and still perform at a high level," Staley added. "I think that I've been able to see more of that."
Staley believes his defense has been trending in the right direction for the past six-and-a-half games.
While Staley was somewhat displeased with the first half against Atlanta, he's felt like the unit has been rolling ever since.
But the turning point has certainly come against the Dolphins and Titans.
"The last two weeks, in particular, I've probably felt more energy from the group for the whole game than at any other point since I've been here," Staley said. "I think that you've seen more play-making and us playing the game the way it needs to be played. That's what we need to build on because we have practiced well and we have played how we practice."
While the Chargers defense was stout throughout Sunday's game against the Titans, a hidden play was Chris Rumph II's fourth-quarter sack.
The nine-yard loss on third down moved Tennessee from the Chargers 24-yard line back to the 33, and the ensuing 51-yard field goal was wide right.
Those missed three points loomed large in game that was decided by that same margin.
"It was a critical sequence in the game. We have had that happen a couple of other times this season. You're hoping for that," Staley said. "I think that we had the right play-call on defensively. We executed really, really well. We were able to force them out of range there.
"That was that was a big one for us. I thought that the defense really managed that situation well. That was a short field. I thought we really came to life. You felt the energy," Staley added. "That created a lot of energy for our team, when we forced that missed field. I think that our defense was really proud. That was a huge stop in the game. I think that it gave our team a big lift on the sideline."
3. Injury updates on Bosa, James
As usual, there were a handful of injury updates on Monday.
But there is nothing new on Joey Bosa, who is working his way back from an injured groin. Bosa has gone through individual workouts but has not returned to practice yet.
"No update on Joey," Staley said. "We'll let you guys know as soon as we feel like he's going to be at practice. We'll make that announcement so that you guys are prepared."
As for Derwin James, Jr., and his quad injury, Staley provided an optimistic update. James went through a pregame workout Sunday but missed his second straight game.
"He's progressing. We are hoping to see him back in practice at some point this week," Staley said. "With the extra day, we're going to make sure that we take full advantage of it, but I still consider him day-to-day.
"He's feeling better, for sure," Staley added. "If you were able to see him work out pregame, he is trending in the right direction."
Staley, by the way, was asked how the defense has been able to rise to the challenge the past two weeks with James on the sideline.
"We expect to play better with one of the top players in the league out there," Staley said of James' potential return. "I think that that will be a great infusion of leadership, production and energy. I think what it has really allowed us to do is take a good look at some guys in some leading roles.
"In these last couple of games, you've been able to see Ja'Sir Taylor out there playing, you've been able to see Nasir [Adderley] and Alohi [Gilman] in different roles than they normally play for us. I think that has been good," Staley added. "I think that we've been able to take a look at guys like Raheem Layne and really see what he can do for us in some roles. Then, how we've had to play in sub [-personnel] defenses. I think that it has been good for our football team to be able to play without him."
In other injury news, Austin Ekeler had an MRI on his shoulder Monday but is "fine," per Staley. Ekeler was in and out of the lineup in the first half. Joshua Palmer is dealing with a back issue also appears to be OK, Staley said.
Joe Gaziano sustained a groin injury that will force him to miss "weeks, not days," and Kemon Hall is week-to-week with a hamstring injury.
Take a look back at the Chargers Week 15 win over the Titans in monochrome
4. Clutch clock management
The Bolts final drive was a thing of beauty in Week 15, as Justin Herbert, Mike Williams and Cameron Dicker all played heroic roles in getting the win.
But don't discount the crafty clock management by Staley and his staff moments earlier when the Bolts were on defense. Point blank, it also helped the Bolts win the game.
Let's set the scene.
The Titans, out of timeouts, had completed a pass down to the 4-yard line when Staley called the Chargers first timeout with 59 seconds left in regulation.
Derrick Henry then caught a 2-yard pass on first down, leading to timeout No. 2 from Staley.
A 1-yard run from Henry brought up third down at the 1-yard line as he burned the final timeout.
And even though Tennessee scored on the ensuing play with 48 seconds left, the plan had worked to perfection.
Sure, the Titans had scored, but the Chargers now had at least some time left for Herbert to orchestrate the final sequence.
Staley on Monday explained his thought process in those moments, crediting his entire staff for helping concoct the perfect use of the Chargers timeouts.
"I think that your mindset has to go from defensive coordinator to head coach in that sequence," Staley said with a smile. "You know that you're trying to get them stopped, for sure, managing the 2-minute the best that you can, but then, you're also having to manage the potential 2-minute drill for your offense at the same time.
"I have a great team around me [Director of Football Research] Aditya Krishnan and [Pass Game Specialist] Tom Arth are up in the box helping me. They do such a fantastic job," Staley continued. "Then, [Defensive Coordinator] Renaldo Hill, [Special Teams Coordinator] Ryan Ficken and [Offensive Coordinator] Joe [Lombardi], us all being together about how we want to operate at the end of the game.
"When they hit that pass [down to the 4-yard line], we knew that there was going to be a component where we had to start to think like that," Staley added. "That's when we clicked into that mindset. It was trying to get him stopped, but then also to give Justin and our offense an opportunity for a 2-minute drill, possibly."
By the way, Staley said he also burned his timeouts because there was a chance the Bolts might have been trailing, too, if the Titans had gone for and converted a 2-point play.
"I thought that it was certainly a possibility, yes," Staley said.
Instead, the Titans kicked the extra point to tie it … and Herbert led the Chargers to a last-second win.
But there was also a learning lesson in the final seconds, too.
Although Herbert spiked the ball with 13 seconds left after Williams' 35-yard reception, the Bolts were called for a delay of game penalty as they were slow to get up to the line.
Staley said there was confusion on a substitution and put the onus on him for the penalty occurring at all.
He noted that in a similar situation going forward, the Chargers simply might just let the clock run down before spiking it with little time left.
"I think the other strategy that we could do the next time is just take a slow clock," Staley said. "Let the clock go down and then clock it late, then just finish it with a field goal. That's the other option that we can go through. That's certainly a learning one for me. We could have managed that better."
5. Evaluating the offense
The Bolts put up 365 yards of offense Sunday, marking the 12th time this season the offense has surpassed the 300-yard mark.
But most would say the offensive performance was a bit clunky with just 17 points and seven punts.
The Chargers averaged 5.3 yards per play and 7.5 yards per pass attempt, which Staley said was a byproduct of the Bolts placing an emphasis on the run game and the Titans playing cautious in the secondary.
"It's not a secret to everybody in the NFL that Justin Herbert can throw the football down the field. Everybody is watching the same movie you are," Staley said. "They don't want to give up a knockout punch. We have to be patient. We have to keep scripting for success.
"We're searching for the explosions the best way we know how, but if they're not there, we're heading to Plan B fast," Staley added. "That's going to add up to a lot of yardage for us and that's going to add up to us scoring the football better. That's what we have to do moving forward."
One area that stood out once again to Staley?
The third-quarter offense, which didn't score a touchdown for the ninth straight game.
The Chargers moved near midfield on their first drive of the quarter, and past it on their second drive, but miscues led to a pair of punts.
The Bolts best chance for six points came after Nasir Adderley's interception gave the offense the ball at the Titans 48. But Herbert was picked off on the cusp of the red zone and the drive was thwarted.
The Chargers final third-quarter drive was a three-and-out.
"You have to continue to ask it because it's continuing to happen. We have to get the explosions, stay away from negative plays and score the ball in the red zone," Staley said. "That is the formula. Our guys have to really attack with that mindset.
"Until we do those little things well — it's a simple mindset and there's a lot of little things that add up to that. That's where it has to be for us," Staley added. "We have to get the explosions because those are what, ultimately, lead to you scoring the ball. You have to stay away from negative plays."
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