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Chargers Mailbag: Why the Bolts Don't Care About December Style Points


Welcome back to the Chargers Mailbag!

We'll be running one of these every week during the regular season, so send in submissions for the Mailbag here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go...

What an ugly win. I'm surprised you found enough to write about after that game. (Chris via email)

You won't find any apologies here for how that game turned out.

Because it was a game the Bolts knew they had to win.

After the game, Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley was asked how badly his team needed to win in Week 13.

"Whatever that level is, probably the highest. 10 out of 10 is probably how I would explain it," Staley said.

So yeah, the game wasn't pretty. And the weather was awful. But the result was exactly what the Chargers were looking for.

And if we're counting that as an "ugly win", how many times have we seen a "pretty loss" by the Bolts in recent seasons?

Losses to the Dolphins and Lions this season come to mind as high-flying and exciting games that the Chargers ended up on the wrong side of.

With the NFL schedule rolling along in early December, now is not the time to be getting style points.

The Bolts were pretty much in a must-win scenario last Sunday … and they might be in the same situation for the final five games, too.

The home win against the Broncos in 2022 wasn't exactly a sexy victory. And if Sunday's result plays out the same way, you won't find the Chargers complaining about it.

Welcome to Chargers Hall of Fame week!

In case you missed the news, Antonio Gates will be inducted into the exclusive club at halftime of Sunday's game.

Gates ranks on the short list of the greatest players in franchise history, and the celebration of him Sunday is likely only a precursor to him hopefully getting elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2024.

He ranks first in franchise history in catches (955), receiving yards (11,841) and touchdown catches (116).

Those numbers, especially the touchdown total, are insane.

Sunday will be a terrific celebration of Gates at SoFi Stadium.

I was fortunate to chat with Gates for almost 30 minutes last week in a great conversation.

He detailed his emotions about going into the Chargers Hall of Fame and how meaningful the moment is for him. You can read that piece here.

I also have a special longform on Gates coming out Thursday. I won't spoil it here but I suggest being on the lookout for it.

Lots of chatter this week about the Chargers defense.

On one hand, they pitched a shutout against the Patriots, something that should always be recognized given how rare those are. (There have only been four shutouts all season, including the one Sunday by the Bolts).

On the other hand, two of those four shutouts have been of the New England offense. That group is a mess, especially in a driving rainstorm. It will likely be the worst unit the Bolts face all season.

My take? That the answer lies somewhere in the middle but leans more toward the first answer.

Even in a loss, it's a fact that the Bolts defense did slow down a high-octane Baltimore offense two weeks ago. That was followed up by another strong performance against New England.

If we look at Pro Football Focus' advanced metrics, the Chargers defense has an EPA per play allowed of minus-0.115 over the past two games.

That figure ranks 11th in the NFL in that timespan. To me, that sounds about right.

Have the Bolts been dominant? No.

Have they been better than what we saw overall in the first 10 games? Definitely.

There's a few reasons for the recent uptick in play.

To start, the secondary is playing much more consistent, as the addition of Deane Leonard, Essang Bassey and Jaylinn Hawkins into the lineup have solidified that group.

Khalil Mack — a guy we could deservingly write about every day around here — has been an absolute monster. He's tied his career high with 15.0 sacks and sits on 99.5 for his career.

I'm not in the prediction business, but I wouldn't be shocked if he gets to 20.0 sacks this season.

And the other veterans on the defense — Derwin James, Jr., Eric Kendricks, Morgan Fox and others — have stepped up their recent play, too.

Overall, it's led to much better defensive performances in the past two games.

The hope for the Bolts is that carry that momentum into the final stretch of the season, similar to one the unit did a season ago when the Chargers won four straight to get into the postseason.

Plenty of work remains for this year's group, but they appear to be trending in the right direction based off back-to-back notable showings.

It's a valid point.

Davis is one of the most electric players on the roster as evident by his juice on special teams. He leads the league with 316 punt return yards, a 16.6 return average and a long of 87 yards on a return.

Offensively, it's not as if he hasn't gotten looks at all. He has 21 total touches for 118 yards, the highlight of which was his 51-yard run against the Raiders back in Week 4.

In the passing game, Davis is rightfully down the list in terms of top options. And the Bolts run game, which hasn't been great all season, will first be led by Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley.

Perhaps we see a bit more of Davis sprinkled in over the final month?

Either way, his rookie season has been a success and he'll be a key part of the team for years to come.

Great timing on this question.

Palmer was practicing Wednesday as the Chargers have opened his 21-day practice window on Wednesday. That means the wide receiver is close to returning from a knee injury.

To recap, Palmer hurt his knee earlier in the season and was questionable for Week 8 against the Bears. The wide receiver played but was eventually placed on Injured Reserve, meaning he had to miss at least four games. Palmer has since missed five games but a return to practice is a step in the right direction.

Staley was asked about Palmer on Monday and said:

"He's progressing. No timeline yet, but he's making progress."

Palmer's eventual return will certainly be a boost for the Bolts offense in the coming weeks.

Yes, every NFL team sends in calls for the league office to look at.

Does it help much? That's debatable.

Mick brings up a pair of calls that looked pretty clear to many of us, both in real time and then especially after a replay.

The missed late hit on Justin Herbert was bad. Everyone knows that.

And the refs missed another call against the Patriots, even after it was reviewed.

Staley challenged a call in the second half Sunday where the Bolts were called for defensive pass interference. But since the ball appeared to be tipped, that would negate the penalty because it can't be called on a tipped pass.

Alas, the play stood and the Chargers lost a timeout.

Did either of those plays make a massive difference in the end results against the Ravens and Patriots? Not in my eyes.

I think we'd all like to simply see more consistency across the league. Because with the Bolts having little to no room for error with five games left, one of those iffy calls cold indeed swing a game down the stretch.

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