The Bolts keep rolling.
Following a win over the Rams in their regular-season home finale, the Chargers have now won four straight games and have one more game against the Broncos before the playoffs.
Here's a breakdown of news from the Chargers 18th week of the season:
Monday: Bolts ring in New Year with dominant performance
The Chargers started off 2023 with a bang.
In the first meeting between the two Los Angeles teams at SoFi Stadium, the Bolts cruised to a 31-10 victory over the Rams. It was one of their most complete performances of the year, as every facet of the game stepped up.
One area that the team had been looking to drastically improve was in the running game, as it had been inconsistent due to a variety of factors. On Sunday, however, it was a different story.
The Bolts ran for 192 yards on 31 carries, a major improvement from previous weeks. Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley believes that the success in the run game at this point in the season is vital for the team going forward.
"Very important. I think that everyone is aware of where we are ranked and stuff like that," Staley said. "These guys know, and they know that we have been working our way to a performance like that. I don't think that anyone believed that we were far away from accomplishing a performance like that. We just needed to stay together and find that rhythm in that right set of runs and get our guys doing the right jobs at a high level."
"I think that all of those things came together yesterday," Staley later added. It was awesome to see us get 31 runs off in that game for 192 [yards]."
It was one of the Bolts best blocking games this season, specifically from the tight ends. It's a unit that has been banged up throughout the entire year, but is starting to find its rhythm late in the season. Both Justin Herbert touchdown passes went to tight ends, as they are beginning to find success in the passing game as well.
Third-year tight end Donald Parham, Jr. has had a trying season, as Sunday was only his fifth game of the year. Battling through many things since last season, Staley talked about what Parham's touchdown reception meant.
"A tremendous story of perseverance, of will inside of a player," Staley said about Parham. "Football has tested his patience. To see him go out like that and play a really complete game — I thought that he blocked extremely well yesterday, he was a factor in the passing game. To score a touchdown, a big red-area touchdown for us, it was a big moment for him.
"Everyone on the sideline, you could see it, the way that his teammates feel about him, his coaches feel about him," Staley added. "We have to continue to build off of that performance. Hopefully, he can continue to play with the confidence that you're seeing because he is a weapon for us."
Only one regular season game remains before the Chargers prepare for their first playoff game since 2018. With the Ravens loss on Sunday night, the Bolts hold the No. 5 seed heading into the last week and will have to make a decision on how to approach it.
Staley still wants to go out there and win in Denver, but in terms of resting players, that will be a case-by-case scenario.
"Our approach is definitely going to get shot to win this ballgame and play as well as we can play heading into the playoffs," Staley said. "I think that there's certainly an advantage to be in the No. 5-seed [for re-seeding], from where I stand, so we're going to try and get there.
"Then, the case-by-case nature of the players, I think that that is the approach that we're going to take, in terms of whether or not to sit them. If there's something that we feel like that would be a good decision, we'll take that case-by-case."
The NFL world went on pause Tuesday in the aftermath of a scary situation involving Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Monday Night Football. Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after a tackle and had to be resuscitated on the field before being transported to a local hospital.
Chargers.com did not post any content this day as it did not feel appropriate to do so.
The team's Twitter account did honor Hamlin with this tweet.
Wednesday: Chargers 'hearts go out' to Hamlin following incident
On Wednesday, Chargers offered their thoughts and prayers to Bills safety Damar Hamlin, his family, the Bills and all involved after Hamlin collapsed on the field in Cincinnati and went into cardiac arrest after making a tackle in the first quarter.
"The first thing was just the prayers for him and his family, prayers for the Bills and his teammates and his coaches — everybody that is involved within that organization — prayers for the Bengals and their players, because they were sharing the field that night," said Staley. "You just know that, if you're a part of this game, when something like that happens, it impacts so many people.
"Total respect and admiration for [Bills Head Coach] Sean McDermott and [Bengals Head Coach] Zac Taylor in the way that they handled a truly rare, one-of-a-kind, type of situation. So much respect for both of them," Staley added. "Since that play, you've seen that football brings people together, and the power of prayer. What you've been able to see since is what, I think, makes football special. We send our deepest prayers to Damar and his family, the Bills players and their organization, the Bengals, and everybody that is involved with pro football."
The incident is a shocking and emotional one across the NFL, but on the positive note as of Wednesday, reports mentioned that Hamlin was trending in a positive direction. Nonetheless, multiple Chargers players spoke about Hamlin and how the incident stuck out with them.
"Our hearts go out to Damar and his family and the Bills organization and also the Bengals just for being [there]," Chargers defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said. "When you see something like that, I can't imagine how traumatic it is. Seeing it on TV, words can't describe how I felt in a negative sense.
"Our prayers are with him, our thoughts are with him and his family," Joseph-Day added. "Just pray that he recovers and continues to tread forward because from what I read, he's going in a positive direction."
The Chargers organization provided multiple resources for their players and coaches in the days following the incident, as Eugene Yim, a Chargers team physician, spoke to the team Wednesday morning.
Herb Martin, the Chargers team clinician, is always readily available, as is Arthur Hightower, the Senior Director of Player Engagement. Team chaplain George Gregory also provided resources.
"We have a tremendous team in-house, led by Dr. Herb Martin, and with Dr. Yim on the medical side of things," Staley said. "From a mental health standpoint, with Arthur Hightower, what you want to establish with your guys is that when something like this happens, everyone handles it differently.
"Some people want to handle it right away, some people might need some space, some people need to do it 1-on-1, some need it do it in small groups or a big group," Staley added. "You just want to make sure that you offer all of those avenues for your players, and that it's not just today that you're talking about it, that you're available for them throughout. It's that consistency of your presence and understanding that we're all in it together."
In his weekly mailbag, Chargers Senior Writer Eric Smith put Hamlin's situation in perspective.
There are so many great people in this league. From what I've recently read about him, Damar Hamlin is one of them.
Football is a grueling sport that requires so much stamina and commitment from all involved. And fans certainly have the right to be frustrated if their team falls short of certain goals.
But always remember that the behind the brand and logo of your favorite team is just a collection of human beings who are trying their best.
It's those people, all of them, who make this league great.
The Chargers only held a walk-through on Wednesday, so the report was an estimation. Fullback Zander Horvath and tackle Trey Pipkins III were the only members of the team that would've been limited. The rest of the team were full participants.
Thursday: Bolts continue to offer support for Hamlin
Hamlin remained on the hearts and minds of the Chargers on Thursday, including Chargers Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill, who got to know Hamlin on a personal level.
Hill spent three seasons as the University of Pittsburgh defensive backs coach, two of those coaching Hamlin. He got an opportunity to recruit and grow a relationship with both Hamlin and his family, which is why Monday night's incident was tough for Hill.
"Yeah, it's been tough," Hill said of the last few days. "Obviously, you try to stay in communication with the family and other players. It's definitely hard because you gain those relationships and those players immediately become your family.
"You spend time with Nina and Mario and get to know them and what they represent," Hill added. "For them to be put in that position, you hate for anybody to go through, but that personal connection and relationship — knowing his little brother was watching, it's just tough."
Hill, like many others have since the incident, spoke glowingly about Hamlin as a person.
"Just a great person," Hill said about Hamlin. "Obviously, he comes from a winning program. Even when he arrived on campus, it was all about winning and how he could help the community. It was more about being close to him so he could change the way people view Pitt, change the way he impacts young people in the community so they could see him play up close and personal.
"To be around his family, just a very supportive family. Just an outstanding young man," Hill added. "He's a winner. He's doing everything, and has always done everything, to support his community and family and make sure he lifts the people that he's around up. That's been him since Day 1."
The world got some positive, uplifting news on Thursday morning, as Hamlin as "substantial improvement in his condition over the past 24 hours."
A pair of physicians from the Cincinnati hospital Hamlin is currently being treated spoke via a Zoom call and remains in intensive care but is now responsive and communicating with doctors through writing.
The great news put a smile on everyone's face including Chargers safety Derwin James, Jr., as he and the team continue to wish the best for Hamlin.
"One thing that made me smile today when I seen the update on him and his first question to the doctors was, 'Who won the game?'," Chargers safety Derwin, James, Jr. said. "That kind of let me know he love the game of ball, and that's really what it's about."
"All I've been doing is praying for them and guys in the locker room have been doing the same," James later added. "Just trying to lift his family, lift his spirit."
Due to weather, the Chargers did not practice on Thursday and the injury report was estimated once again. There were no changes from Wednesday.
Check out the best photos from Austin Ekeler's 161 total scrimmage-yard, two touchdown, Week 17 performance against the Rams that earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for first time in his career
Friday: Chargers focused on Week 18
The Bolts were back on the practice field on Friday as they prepare to travel to Denver for the final week of the regular season.
And they enter Week 18 almost as clean as they could be.
Horvath was the lone injury designation for Sunday with ankle injury, as he is questionable to play. Aside from that, everyone else on the injury report practiced in full and is good to go.
Having an injury report that looks like the Bolts does at this point is encouraging, and it is translating on the practice field as they've welcomed back some of their biggest stars back into the lineup.
"The practice quality looks good," Staley said on Friday. "The practice we just had was a quality practice. Guys are feeling confident in one another and starting to develop that chemistry because we've played together a lot now and there's a lot to play for.
"We also have full respect for our opponent, and they have our full attention." Staley added. "That's why I felt like today's practice was one of the better ones we've had."
With the Ravens playing in the earlier window on Sunday, there is a chance the Chargers will know whether they need a win to clinch the No. 5 seed or not before kickoff. The mindset going into this game remains the same for the Bolts however — win the game.
If things change as the game goes on, Staley says there's a possibility of adjusting. But, the team is focused on a Broncos team that is coming off of an impressive performance.
"I think that's certainly going to be my approach to this game, is play a high-level game," Staley said. "Last week, Denver played a really outstanding game against the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the road. You know that they're going to demand our full attention.
"Our players know that going into this game, they know that we're going to play our players and we're going to play well," Staley added. "As the facts on the ground change within the game then yeah, things can change."
While it remains to be seen how much the Chargers positioning can change in Denver, the team is approaching the game full steam ahead. Building consistency heading into the playoffs can go a long way, which is why quarterback Justin Herbert thinks focusing on redzone offense can be something they can work on this Sunday.
"I think continuing to execute in the redzone is huge for us. I think being solid on third down and the red zone as well has led to good scoring drives, and I think being able to run the ball as well," Herbert said. "The past couple of games we've been able to run the ball pretty well in the redzone and we've been able to put up some points.
"As long as we're able to do those things, I feel pretty good about our offense," Herbert added.
Prior to Friday's practice, Smith talked with Nick Kosmider, who covers the Broncos for The Athletic, to preview Sunday's matchup.
Check out the best photos of the Chargers Friday practice at Hoag Performance Center
Videos of the Week
All In: Episode 9 | Have Pads, Will Hit
The ninth episode of 'All In' titled 'Have Pads, Will Hit' gives an all-access look at how the Bolts secured their first playoff spot since 2018 and dives into the defensive resurgence in this back stretch of the season.
Mic'd Up | Breiden Fehoko
Chargers defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko was mic'd up during the Week 17 win vs the Los Angeles Rams.
Chargers Weekly | Regular-Season Finale in Denver, Playoff Seeding Still Undecided
Matt "Money" Smith and Chris Hayre recap the Chargers Week 17 victory over the Rams and lay out what's at stake in Denver this Sunday.
Film Room | Mike Williams, the Threat That He Possesses
On this episode of Film Room, hosts Chris Hayre and Daniel Jeremiah break down game film of wide receiver Mike Williams and his ability to stretch the field on the defense.
Tweets of the Week
Bolt Up for 2023!
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