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How Austin Ekeler's Big Night Propelled the Chargers Offense in Win


Below are three takeaways from Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, quarterback Justin Herbert, running back Austin Ekeler and more following their Week 8 win over the Bears:

Ekeler's big day through the air

That's what the Chargers offense looks like with a healthy Austin Ekeler.

The Bolts running back was a game-changer on Sunday night, finishing the game with 123 total yards on 22 touches in addition to a touchdown enroute to the primetime win.

And perhaps the biggest impact of Ekeler's night came through the air, where he was as sharp as ever and provided a spark in place of the run game when it couldn't get going.

The Chargers single-season receptions leader finished Week 8 leading the team with seven receptions for 94 yards, and got the scoring started on Sunday Night Football by cashing in a screen pass for a 39-yard touchdown. He became the seventh player in NFL history to have 30 touchdowns rushing and 30 touchdown receptions in a career.

Ekeler continues to get healthier and healthier since coming back from injury, and Sunday night was another reminder of just how versatile he is.

"It was a big point of emphasis. He's such a complete player," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said about Ekeler. "That's when he's most dangerous, when he's running the football, catching the football in the screen game.

"To get him going in the screen game, I thought was really big in the game," Staley added. "He's such a weapon for us. He had a lot of time off with that ankle, so you can see that he's getting his rhythm and timing back. We need him to play like that in order for us to have a game like this."

Entering Week 8, Ekeler had accumulated 83 yards through the air in the three games he played. He surpassed that total all on Sunday night, as he once again showed the ways he can impact the game even when the ground game isn't working.

Whatever way the game plays out, Ekeler is prepared.

"You don't really know how the chips are going to fall when the game starts going, you just go with the flow," Ekeler said. "Tonight, the ball was coming my way and I was able to make a few plays to get us in good position and that's my job.

"I try to do my job every single time and that's how it comes out to be sometimes," Ekeler added.

The Bolts running back now stands alone in a couple areas of NFL history.

Ekeler became the youngest running back since at least 1960 to reach 30 TD receptions (28 years, 164 days), and also the first running back in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) with 30 TD catches with a single team, and it happened to come on his 400th career reception.

His performance was big — but just another day at the office for those who see him day in and day out.

"It was awesome. He stepped up big time," Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert said. "In these big games, you need your top players to play like that. He did a great job at practice all week long.

"We're not surprised by all of the success that he has," Herbert added. "He is such a good player, so versatile — whether it's in the backfield or whether he is running routes, he is making plays. It was great to see from him."

Ekeler added: "I cannot wait to get back to practice and get with the guys again and keep polishing it up and trying to get one after another."

Bolts secondary nabs 2 big INTs

The Chargers defense put together one of their best ball-hawking performances of the season in primetime.

The group finished with seven passes defended and two interceptions — the first one coming courtesy of second-year cornerback Ja'Sir Taylor.

With the Bears driving past midfield in the second quarter, Taylor found himself in the right place at the right time, securing his first NFL interception in his 24th career game and possibly taking away Chicago points.

"He threw it right to me. I was just playing the defense that was called," Taylor said of the interception. "We did a good job disguising it which set me up to get an easy pick. Credit to the defensive call, the way we played it, disguised, put me in the right position."

Taylor has stepped up in a big way for the secondary, playing big snaps and being relied upon early in his second year after coming along strong as a rookie.

It was a special moment for Taylor in his young NFL career, as he also earned a game ball in the locker room for his performance.

"It was surreal moment, a great moment. I got to celebrate with my brothers," Taylor said. "We've been practicing all week for the celebrations that we're going to do when we get the turnovers that we got today. We had a good time, it was fun. Can't wait to do it again."

And while it wasn't his first career interception, safety Derwin James, Jr. got in the takeaway mix as well with one in the fourth quarter.

On a fourth-and-3 and with the Bears approaching the red zone, fellow safety Alohi Gilman made a break on a ball intended for Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney. Gilman was able to get the hit on Mooney to break up the pass — which landed in perfect position for James to secure it.

It goes on the stat sheet as a James' eighth career interception, but the safety credited Gilman for his first interception of the 2023 season.

"Alohi Gilman … what a play. He tipped it to me," James said about his interception. "I didn't have to do much."

Taylor added: "That's good, they're contagious. I got one … Derwin, too. We all out here trying to make plays and have fun."

Fehoko celebrates 1st career TD

It was a night of career firsts in Week 8 in addition to Taylor mentioned above.

Wide receiver Simi Fehoko, who was signed to the Bolts just over a month ago, not only made his first catch in the powder blues — it happened to be his first career NFL touchdown as well.

On the Chargers second offensive drive of the game and inside the 10-yard line, Fehoko crossed the middle of the field and found himself with some space after the catch, as he rumbled into the end zone for the score.

"It's definitely been surreal. A lot of hard work," Fehoko said after the game. "Got here three weeks ago and they've welcomed me in like family, so it's been awesome to be able to be here and be a part of this organization."

"It's definitely been crazy. I'm just excited," Fehoko later added. "I'm giving the game ball to my wife, she's the real MVP traveling around the world with me."

Herbert added: "It was just another man route, a little mesher. He did a great job just running through it, beating man coverage. I kind of looked him off a little too early, came back to him and he caught it, made a great play. I was glad he was looking at me."

Entering Week 8, Fehoko had three career catches and had played 12 career games including two with the Bolts.

The third-year receiver's transition to the Bolts has been helped in large part to the veteran receivers who have been around the room according to Fehoko, as he has continued to step up wherever he was needed.

"We got a great wide receiver room in general. You got [Keenan Allen], with Josh [Palmer], they've been helping me learn the playbook," Fehoko said. "It's been pretty familiar with [Chargers Offensive Coordinator] Kellen [Moore]. It's been good just to be a part of this organization and getting the opportunity."

"I think that's sort of been my role as long as I've been here," Fehoko said about stepping up. "First week I got here, threw me in at special teams and stepping in where I'm needed. I take pride in trying to know everything so I can help the team wherever they need. It's been awesome."

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