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5 Takeaways: Chargers Proud of Compete Level in Week 18 Finale

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The Chargers ended the 2023 season with a 13-12 home loss to the Chiefs on Sunday.

The Bolts finished 5-12 and hold the **No. 5 overall pick** in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Here are five takeaways from Week 18:

1. A fight until the end

The Chargers 2023 season ended the same way that numerous other games did this season.

With an agonizingly close loss where the Bolts simply couldn't make a play when they needed to.

Derwin James, Jr. said his biggest takeaway from the 2023 season is "remembering how hard it is to win in this league."

The Bolts finished with a dozen losses this season, eight of which came by one score or less. And seven of those losses were by a field goal or less.

"Every step, every mistake, every play that you don't think matters, matters," James said. "Because we were had eight games [where we were] two to three points short. We just have to get better from that."

Eric Kendricks added: "A lot of our games were just like the game today … came down to the very last series. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of that too many times this year. We worked so hard together, definitely very frustrating."

Easton Stick said: "You're frustrated, you're really upset that you lost. We had a chance to win, and we didn't do it, again. It's frustrating."

The Chargers trailed 10-0 early Sunday before rallying over the final three quarters as Cameron Dicker kicked four field goals.

But with a 12-10 lead and just minutes left, the Bolts defense allowed the Chiefs to re-take the lead on a 41-yard field goal with 49 seconds to play.

Chiefs quarterback Blaine Gabbert scrambled for 40 yards on the final drive to help dash the Bolts hopes of a close win.

"2-minute drill, gave up the two scrambles. That's the difference in that drive, getting the points," said Chargers Interim Head Coach Giff Smith. "But, I thought that they really played hard.

"Blaine is a veteran quarterback. I thought he did a good job," Smith added. "We didn't make the stop at the very end, like we would have liked to, but I thought that they played really well."

Smith said he was proud of the fight and compete level the Bolts showed in the final three games of the season, all of which were one-score losses.

"We were going to fight and we were going to compete, we were going to make this organization proud, and I do think they did that," Smith said. "We didn't get the wins like we wanted to, but as far as what we were trying to accomplish, coming off of a difficult loss in Las Vegas, the character of these guys, I really think they rallied together and really fought for three games, I really do."

2. Praise for Giff

Smith took the helm for the final three games after the Bolts made front office changes after a Week 15 loss to the Raiders.

Khalil Mack praised Smith's leadership in a trying time for the organization.

"Giff did an awesome job stepping in when it was tough to do," Mack said. "I don't know if anybody else would want to step in at that moment in the season.

"Seeing how he rallied the guys and had us ready to go, even though we weren't able to lock it down and get the job done on Sunday, we played for each other and he did a great job bringing us together for that," Mack added.

Kendricks said: "He did a great job and he's a good leader of men. He got us all to band together."

Smith said he wasn't too worried about himself postgame and noted that he "just hurt for [the players] right now."

He later added: "I'll be honest, these three weeks, all I wanted to do was give my all to these players for these three games. Whatever happens, we'll move forward. I haven't really thought about it."

Smith said he was appreciative of the chance to lead a team but once again turned the focus on his players.

"Being grateful. I've been very blessed in my life," Smith said. "This was a great opportunity to give back to these young men, so I'm extremely grateful for that."

Browse through live action photos of the Bolts' Week 18 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs at SoFi Stadium

3. Mack ties sack record

Mack made some history Sunday afternoon.

The Chargers outside linebacker sacked Blaine Gabbert in the first half to bring his season total to 17.0.

That tied Shawne Merriman and Leslie O'Neal for the Chargers single-season franchise mark while also increasing Mack's own personal best for a season.

And, Mack accomplished that feat while finishing fourth in the NFL in total sacks.

Even more impressive? Mack did so during his age-32 season as he put together a historic year.

Only Robert Mathis, who had 19.5 sacks in 2013, has recorded more sacks in his age-32 or older season than Mack did in 2023.

 Mack, who surpassed the 100-sack mark this season, now has 101.5 sacks in his career.

4. Dicker ends year on high note

If Mack was the Bolts MVP in 2023, Dicker is likely on that short list, too.

The 23-year-old kicker booted four field goals Sunday and accounted for all of the Chargers points.

All in all, Dicker kicked 12 field goals in the Bolts final three games and scored all 21 of their points in the final two games of the season.

"Just stay mellow, relax and have fun," Dicker said. "It's the game of football, I'm blessed to be able to play this and enjoying the opportunities, enjoying being out there with my teammates.

"You never know how long it's going to be so look at it from that mindset and do the best I can for the team," Dicker added.

After making 19 of 20 field goals with the Chargers in 2022, Dicker was exceptional again this season.

Dicker made 31 of 33 field goals with a long of 55 this season. He was also perfect on all 35 extra point tries.

Dicker credited veteran long snapper Josh Harris and punter/holder JK Scott for helping him excel in 2023.

"I'm happy with how this season went," Dicker said. "I don't even know how it finished percentage-wise but I'm really happy with how everything went.

"They make it easy on me, Josh and JK, and help me out a lot," Dicker added. "I'm excited with how Year 2 went and ready to get back to Year 3, but going to have some good time off."

5. Shuffled up O-line

The Chargers entered Week 18 down two starters on the offensive line in center Corey Linsley and left guard Zion Johnson.

Rookie Jordan McFadden stepped in for Johnson while Brenden Jaimes was the third center to start for the Bolts this year.

The Bolts suffered more attrition during the game as right guard Jamaree Salyer suffered an eye injury and was replaced by Austen Pleasants. Salyer later returned to the game.

Right tackle Trey Pipkins III then suffered a knee injury in the second half as Foster Sarell took over at that spot.

"I think it's a testament to the players we have," McFadden said. "Guys prepare each week as if they're starting because you never know when your time will come.

"It just speaks to the players we got, how much they care and want to be successful when given the opportunity," McFadden added.

McFadden, who ended up starting the Bolts final two games of the season, said the experience was invaluable as he heads into Year 2.

"Definitely a huge confidence booster knowing that you can do it," McFadden said. "That's big and just to get the experience, there's nothing like actually doing it out there and doing it yourself. Just to get the experience, see different things, it's definitely big."

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