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5 Final Thoughts: Bolts Looking to Play Spoiler vs. Broncos


The Chargers (5-10) are off to Denver for their final road game of the 2023 season.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of Week 17:

1. Playing for pride

The Chargers playoff hopes came to an end last weekend against the Bills.

Yet as the Bolts prepare for Sunday's game in Denver, there is plenty on the line.

The Chargers are playing for pride, and to officially eliminate the Broncos (7-8) from playoff contention. According to the New York Times' playoff predictor, Denver has a 5 percent chance at the postseason. 

"Just trying to win," quarterback Easton Stick said this week. "I've said it before, you put everything into this game.

"When you do that, obviously, there's a ton of pride. This matters to a lot of people," Stick added. "Not just in this building — but especially in this building — it matters a lot," Stick added. "We're going out there to get better on the field here and go out on Sunday to win."

Week 17 will be the second game that Chargers Interim Head Coach Giff Smith is in charge.

Players want to get a win for him, too.

"It will be super dope. A super dope experience," Khalil Mack said. "It doesn't feel like it's far from our reach. If we play for each other, we feel like we can get it done."

Mack later added: "Giff is a special guy, man. Been working with him for two years now … and it's special to see him in that position. But he carried himself like that when he was an assistant coach."

So, no, the Chargers don't care about the 2024 offseason or draft status or any of that right now.

The goal Sunday is simple: win.

2. Stidham steps in for Denver

The Bolts will see a different Broncos quarterback under center in Week 17.

Denver turned to Jarrett Stidham earlier this week as Russell Wilson goes to the bench.

"Their strength is their offensive line and running game," Smith said. "Obviously, Russell [Wilson] is a great player. I'm sure they did what they thought was right.

"We'll prepare for whoever goes out there, even if they switch it back," Smith added. "We'll have a gameplan for all the quarterbacks."

Stidham has made two NFL starts and appeared in 14 total games, completing 77 of 131 passes for 926 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. He previously spent time with the Patriots and Raiders.

"Prepare the same way … just making sure we get ready for Stidham and whatever they have offensively this week," Mack said. "We know what he's capable of."

Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley knows Stidham from the college ranks when the two faced each other in the SEC.

"I'm 0-1 versus Jarrett Stidham, he beat me in 2017 when I was at Alabama," Ansley noted about a game against Auburn. "He's a good player, pocket guy. He has sneaky athleticism. He's bigger than you think.

"We've researched him from the Raiders and Denver and we have a pretty good idea of who he is," Ansley added. "We have to do a really good job of containing him because he can beat you in multiple ways."

3. A milestone for Mack?

Mack remains at 99.5 career sacks, a number he has sat on since getting a pair of sack against the Patriots in Week 13.

Mack's sack total has dried up since then, and he poked fun at reporters this week by saying the attention of No. 100 has jinxed him a bit.

"Y'all are messing it up for me," Mack said with a laugh. "Everybody was trying to talk with me before I got to the quarterback [for the 100th time]."

It's not as if Mack hasn't been close.

He has been right there in the past three games, none more evident than when he had Buffalo's Josh Allen in his grasp Saturday night. Instead of celebrating, however, Mack let the quarterback wiggle away.

"Hopefully we can get out of the funk this week," Mack later added.

Mack has 15.0 sacks this season, which ties his career high and are the fourth-most in the NFL this season.

Besides being in range of No. 100. he's also 2.0 sacks away from tying the Chargers single-season mark held by Shawne Merriman and Leslie O'Neal.

4. Stick's continued progression

Stick's 2023 season will come full circle in a way Sunday in Denver.

He saw his first action in Week 14 when he played more than a half against the Broncos.

Now he'll make his third straight start against the same team.

Stick this week noted his growth in only a three-week span.

"I think you get better every single rep you take. That's the goal, at least," Stick said. "I've really enjoyed being in the huddle with the guys, communicating, getting lined up and going to play.

"It's been a lot of fun. I think we've gotten better over the last two weeks," Stick added. "We'll just try to clean up some little things and hopefully go play really well on Sunday."

In two-plus games, Stick has completed 59 of 89 passes for 651 yards with three scores and an interception. He's also rushed for 36 yards and scored on the ground against Buffalo in Week 16.

"Easton has done a nice job," Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore said. "He has certainly given us a chance these last couple of weeks, certainly this past week.

"I think that he operates really well. He is throwing it well," Moore added. "Obviously, his legs have come alive, certainly last week. It's something for him to build on, but I think that he is definitely doing a nice job."

5. Matlock looks to finish strong

Scott Matlock's football season has usually been over by now.

But the former Boise State standout is pushing his way through the end of his rookie year.

"Honestly, it's gone by really, really fast," Matlock said. "Like, I blinked and we have two games left. I'm just trying to make the most of every single rep out there, trying to make it the best I can and do my job to help this team win games. It's really gone by fast."

Matlock was a 2023 sixth-round pick at defensive tackle. He's played 202 defensive snaps in 10 games this season but has earned more playing time of late.

Matlock appeared in the Chargers first seven games of the season but was then inactive until Week 14. Since then, he's played in three straight games and will likely play in the final two contests.

"Throughout the season I can see myself getting better little by little," Matlock said. "I'm a different player than I was Game 1, Game 2 and that's the most important thing.

"Am I improving week in and week out? These last two weeks I just want to make sure I continue to get better, put good things on tape and just embrace these guys and embrace this locker room," Matlock continued.

He later added: "As the season has progressed, I've been getting more and more confident, which means I'm playing looser and faster and trusting myself."

Matlock has been credited with 11 total tackles and a QB hit in 2023.

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