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Final Thoughts: Bolts Locked In on Broncos, Not Other Games


Welcome to Week 18.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of the Chargers-Broncos matchup:

1. Chargers keeping sharp mindset ahead of Week 18

Count Derwin James, Jr., among the Bolts who can't wait for some playoff football.

"It feels amazing. Since my rookie year, we haven't been there," James said. "Sometimes you can take making the playoffs for granted.

"Just being in the league, and this being my fifth season, and only going once … that should tell you a lot," James added. "We're very grateful."

But the Bolts work isn't finished yet, not with one game left in the regular season.

The Chargers enter Week 18's road game against the Broncos with a 10-6 record and in the No. 5 seed.

The Bolts can secure that spot with a win in Denver, locking them into a Wild Card round game against the AFC South champion.

However, if the Ravens lose Sunday to the Bengals — and that game will likely be decided before the Chargers game begins — then the Bolts would also be the fifth seed.

So yes, there's a chance the Chargers rest players if they know their Week 18 game won't affect seeding.

But the Bolts won't know that until late, meaning they also must prepare to win if necessary.

"We've got to approach it just like we approached the last one," James said. "It's a game that requires us to be at our best. We have to go win.

"It doesn't matter if we've clinched or didn't clinch," James added. "If it's a football game and we're suiting up and they're locking the gates, we have to go win. That's our mindset and my mindset as a player."

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said Friday that his team's approach will be determined as scenarios unfold and play out Sunday afternoon.

"It's going to happen how it happens," Staley said. "We're aware of that now and we know that we'll know what's going on before we play.

"But any type of competitor knows the mindset has got to be on your opponent," Staley added. "We're going to play the Denver Broncos, and our mind can't be in two places. That's not how competition works. Our full focus is going to be on Denver and playing our best football."

2. Ekeler striving for 20 TDs (again)

Austin Ekeler could hit rare air in the regular-season finale.

The Bolts running back has 18 total touchdowns just season and is just two away from 20, a hallowed number that has been hit just 32 times in NFL history.

One of those instances was a year ago, when Ekeler had 20 total scores, including a dozen on the ground.

Ekeler this week said he's hopeful he can make it back-to-back seasons with 20 scores.

"That one definitely has some weight behind it. Obviously, I just want to score more touchdowns. The number doesn't necessarily matter. I just want to score," ekeler said. "In this case, it's like I had 20 last year. I am so close this year. I think it would be pretty special to be able to look back on my career and say I had two back-to-back seasons where I had 20 touchdowns.

"There is definitely some value in that as far as for me down the road. If it happens, I don't know, but we'll see," Ekeler added. You never know with these games, but definitely something that is on my mind like it always is, getting in the end zone. But, definitely want to get in there twice."

If Ekeler does hit that mark, he'll be the first player to do so since Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson did so in 2005 and 2006.

We'll see Sunday if Ekeler can get there, but his teammates and coaches are still in awe of what he's been able to do these past two seasons.

"It's wild because he's just so elite. You see a lot of guys across the league get some much recognition with All-Pros and Pro Bowls, and he's a guy that should be in that conversation," running back Joshua Kelley said. "He's probably the most complete back in football right now. Running, catching, all the stuff we see him do on film is crazy.

"For me, honestly, it's just a pleasure to really watch and learn from him," Kelley added. "I don't know how long I'm going to play with him but there's a lot of things I've taken from his game and seen how he approaches the mental side of football. It's been really dope to see. Him breaking records and getting those touchdowns, it's not a coincidence."

3. A final tune-up for the offense

The Bolts offense is coming off one of its best performances of the season against the Rams.

The unit racked up 431 total yards, including 192 on the ground, while scoring 31 points for the second-highest point total of the season so far.

And with one game to go before the playoffs, Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi wants to see the offense stacked strong performances together.

"I think that we played well. I think that factored into a lot of things, whether it was a score, no negative plays, more rushing yards, all of those things," Lombardi said. "Hopefully, we can continue to do that. I think the margin of error between a game like that and a game where, maybe, you score 17 points, is just one or two plays.

"We just have to keep pressing and playing consistently, taking it one play at a time — not think that we've found any great answers because we had one good game," Lombardi added. "We just have to keep going back to work and trusting the process and getting after it."

Justin Herbert on Friday said he likes the direction the offense has been headed in over the past few games.

"I think there's a lot of things we've been able to clean up over the past couple of weeks," Herbert said. "As long as we're watching the film and getting better and being honest and real with ourselves ... we feel really comfortable with the talent we have.

"If I can just keep getting them the ball, limit turnovers, convert on third downs — do the same thing week-in and week-out — we feel like we've gotten better," Herbert added.

One area to focus on, he said, was the red zone. The Bolts will get a tough test there, as Denver's red-zone defense is tied for fourth overall at 48.84 percent.

"Continuing to execute in the red zone is huge for us," Herbert said. "

4. Bosa ready for more reps

Joey Bosa played 25 snaps on Sunday in his first action since Week 3.

But the outside linebacker said it was a "rough outing" in his return to the field.

Bosa revealed this week that he came down with food poisoning Saturday and wasn't 100 percent during the game.

"Other than that, my groin felt good," Bosa said. "But mind was just kind of somewhere else so I wasn't worried about my groin as much."

Bosa, who said he battled dehydration and other issues, said it was tough to judge how he did given the tough circumstances.

"I'll get a better picture of it this weekend. But I did get 25 plays in, and they were pretty intense," Bosa said. "Based on my conditioning and everything, and obviously getting pads on is a different deal, but I think I'll definitely be good to go."

Staley said: "I was proud of the way he battled through [food poisoning]. Now I think we're probably going to get a more accurate picture of where he's at."

Bosa said he expects to see more reps against the Broncos and noted he's ready for his first postseason appearance since 2018, when he was dealing with a foot injury.

"I'm feeling much better and much more confidence going into games than I did that year," Bosa said. "But it's exciting to get an opportunity. I'm talking to my brother yesterday and he's worn down from a whole season of grinding. I'm like, 'Oh, I don't feel too bad. What's the big deal?'

"It's definitely a unique thing being kind of fresh," Bosa added.

5. Not worried about the weather

Sunday's high will be 46 degrees in Denver, marking the coldest game the Chargers have played in this season.

The Bolts know they will be on the road for at least one playoff game and could end up in a cold-weather climate at some point.

Staley isn't worried about the weather at all.

"Non-factor," Staley said. "Pro players play where they are supposed to play. We're excited to compete."

One person who may be affected in kicker Cameron Dicker, who said Friday that colder conditions can affect the ball.

"Ball gets harder, doesn't usually fly as far in colder situations," Dicker said. "If it's windy, then obviously you play all that. The day of the game, you kind of figure out as you're hitting [during warmups]."

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