Below are three takeaways from Monday's press conferences with Brandon Staley, Derwin James Jr., and Mike Williams:
Win and in
In the NFL's expanded 18-week season, the final game on the schedule features an AFC West showdown on Sunday Night Football between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders with each team's playoff future at stake. Whoever wins will be in.
On Monday, head coach Brandon Staley talked about how preparation and focus will be key to get a result like the Chargers did in Week 4, when they beat the Raiders on Monday Night Football, 28-14.
"There's a lot at stake in this game," Staley said. "The fact that it's a division game, I think amplifies the matchup just because if the familiarity and the history between the two teams. It's going to be an outstanding game. They're playing at a really, really high level. The first game was a heck of a football game. They've had a really, really good season. They've really grown and developed as a football team."
Sunday will mark the Bolts' fourth primetime game of the season, as the Chargers are 2-1 under the lights so far this season. Safety Derwin James Jr. talked about what matters most when it comes to Sunday's game.
"We're definitely built for this moment," James Jr. said. "I definitely feel like that is going to help us…we have to bring our 'A' game. We already know what type of game that it's going to be. Nothing that we did in the beginning of the year matters anymore. All that matters, come Sunday night, is that if you win, you keep going."
On the receiving end of history
Wide receiver Mike Williams missed the Bolts' Week 16 matchup due to being on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, but returned in Week 17 against the Broncos in a big way. Williams had 63 yards and one touchdown on the day, but most importantly helped Justin Herbert break Chargers history on Sunday.
Herbert's 45-yard touchdown pass to Williams broke the franchise single-season passing touchdowns record, which led to Herbert running down the field with excitement to embrace Williams. The energy and excitement from Herbert led him to tackle Williams on the field, which erupted into a team celebration on the field and on the sideline.
On Monday, Williams talked more about that record-breaking moment between receiver and quarterback.
"I don't know what he was trying to do," Williams said. "But he tackled me on that one. I don't know if he was trying to give me a big hug — he likes hugging people. He kind of brought me down. I thought we were about to make a pile…It didn't go that far, but there was just a lot of energy and emotion in that."
Williams, who has a career best 1,027 receiving yards on the season, talked about how in the heat of the moment he didn't know that touchdown catch was the record breaker and he almost threw the ball into the stands in excitement.
"They said that they got it back," he explained. "I don't even know where the ball went; I kind of just flung it. I don't know where it went. That was big. That was huge for him, as a goal. I think that he passed up [former Chargers QB] Philip [Rivers], which was huge. Everybody knew what type of quarterback Phil was for this organization, so that's big for Justin."
Developing culture in his first year as a head coach
As Staley prepares for his final week of the regular season and 17th game as the Chargers head coach, he had time to reflect on establishing culture within the Bolts organization. Staley talked about what he noticed most about the team throughout the process of developing the culture he wanted to see from his new team.
"When you hear your players start to sound like coaches, I think that you feel like you're a lot closer to establishing your way of doing things," Staley said. "When your players sound like coaches with the way you practice; whether it's techniques, schemes, situation — when they start to sound like you do, I think that you know you have a good thing going."
One of those players who has been instrumental in developing the culture and style that Staley wanted to implement has been running back Austin Ekeler. Staley gave insight into what he was thinking from the moment he was able to connect with Ekeler over the phone and then finally meet in person.
"I felt like we were going to be an instant match," Staley said. "I felt like we had a vision for him and the role that he was going to play for our football team, not only just as a player, but as a leader. He's been a pleasure to coach. I've enjoyed seeing him take that lead role. I've enjoyed seeing him having a career season. You guys are aware of the touchdown, the rushing yards, the receiving yards, but his example has been very important for our entire team. Just really proud of his season."
Another relationship that is key to a successful football team is the relationship between the head coach and quarterback. Staley described a special moment that he shares with Herbert before the week ends and the facility empties out.
"Fridays at 3 [p.m.], when the rest of our facility is empty, he and me are the last ones here," Staley said. "I think that that never ceases to amaze me. That peace and quiet, that serenity in a pro building, where you're kind of at the end of the week, your starting quarterback is still here. That never ceases to amaze me, but it does in the same way. It's a reminder of why he's earning all of the things that he's earning."
Staley uses that time to talk all things 'big, small and in the middle' but mainly, as a time to connect before the 'storm' the Bolts head into on gamedays.
The Chargers' next battle starts this week as they prepare for the most important game of the season to date.
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