Below are three takeaways from Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, quarterback Justin Herbert, safety Alohi Gilman and others after their Week 5 win in Cleveland:
Gilman comes up huge
Having only started four games so far in his NFL career entering today, Chargers safety Alohi Gilman got the start next to Derwin James, Jr. Starting in place of Nasir Adderley, the sixth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft made one of the most crucial plays in the Chargers 30-28 win over the Browns.
With 2:55 left in the 4th quarter and Cleveland knocking on the door of taking the lead, Gilman intercepted a Jacoby Brissett pass that gave the Bolts the ball back and most importantly, took away Browns points.
After the Chargers win, Gilman talked about what he saw on the interception and how he finished with the ball.
"It was one of those late downs, sprint out runs, [quarterback] got out of the pocket," Gilman said. "[I] kind of baited him into throwing it cause there in that field zone where quarterbacks like to stretch it out and dump it out or run the ball. Like [Patrick] Mahomes is one of the masters of those. He kind of just did that, baited him into doing it.
"He took a couple of steps forward and me and him are looking eye to eye and I fell back in the window, and he threw the ball [right to me]," Gilman added.
Gilman had impressed Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, leading to his first start of the year. Staley talked about the move to start Gilman and seeing him play alongside James.
"It's just to create competition within our football team," Staley said. "We feel like [Gilman] had earned an opportunity to start. We wanted to see that combination out there of him and Derwin playing together, with [S Nasir Adderley] playing a dime as the sixth DB.
"We felt like [Gilman] had earned an opportunity to show what he can do. Like I said, we're a work in progress and we're trying to find those right combinations on defense," Staley added.
James also talked about Gilman's interception and its impact, saving points — and ultimately the game.
"MVP, I mean it was an amazing play, big play," James said. "Taking points off the board, I mean we were only up two points, and they were already in field goal range, so to take points off the board that was so big."
Gilman, who finished with seven combined tackles to go along with the interception, credited the rest of the secondary who helped him out, adding that at the end of the day, it was the group effort that closed out the win.
"At the end of the day it's football," Gilman said. "I felt good, I felt confident going out there and playing ball and my brothers out there helping me out a bunch."
"I just know that it was a group effort. That's all that matters to me. Whether I was playing, [Adderley] was playing, we're all close, we're all brothers and we need each other throughout the rest of the season," Gilman later added. "Whether I'm playing, or [Adderley] or James, that's just how it goes in the secondary."
Offensive line gives running game a big push
Last week, the Bolts running game showed improvement, as running back Austin Ekeler scored twice on the ground.
Today, they managed to one-up last week's performance in a big way. With a combined 238 yards rushing, the Chargers running game was key enroute to the victory.
"It was the story of the game for us," Staley said. "We came in here and certainly there were a lot of questions about us being able to run the ball in the first four games. We had a lot of confidence in the plan, a lot of confidence in who's running the ball and who's blocking for them.
"I just think our O-Linemen came alive today, and our runners –Ekeler, [RB Joshua] Kelley. I mean, those guys were flying out there and just running with a purpose," Staley added.
Ekeler led the way with a career-high 173 yards on the ground and two total touchdowns. Having big gaps in a lot of gaps in those runs, Ekeler talked about the push they gave the backfield today and why they received a game ball in the locker room.
"Today the offensive line ended up getting a game ball for a good reason because they were definitely moving some people out of the way," Ekeler said. "We switched up our scheme a little, something a little different than what we've done in the past and we were able to exploit that."
Running back Joshua Kelley complimented the run game when Ekeler was on the bench, adding to the Chargers relentless ground attack. Scoring his first touchdown since Week 11 of the 2020 season, Kelley credited the offensive line and everyone on offense for today's ground attack.
"Those dudes were moving the ball," Kelley said about the offensive line. "They were just coming off the ball, tight ends coming off the ball too, receivers. Everybody was over there was just making the effort today that we were going to run the ball. Shoutout to them."
A topic of conversation so far this season, the running game has back-to-back games to build on. A balanced attack is what the team is looking for, as it can provide huge benefits, especially when the Chargers are on the road.
"We don't want to be looked at as a passing team," Staley said. "I think our guys were tired of hearing that because that's not what we believe internally. We just needed to play together more and find our rhythm. We really believe in how we want to run the ball. We just needed more time on task. I thought you saw that today.
"I thought our guys were consistent throughout all four quarters. As you saw, it allowed us to control the game and take the crowd out of it. I thought it really allowed us to tire them out too, and really put the pressure on them to have to go fight the fight," Staley added.
Bertolet gets game ball in NFL debut
The status of Chargers kicker Dustin Hopkins came down to game time. As insurance, the Bolts signed kicker Taylor Bertolet to the practice squad on Thursday and elevated him from the practice squad for today's game.
Not knowing whether he would kick today or not, Bertolet got the news.
"I found out this morning. Officially this morning," Bertolet said.
After spending time on multiple practice squads and kicking only in preseason games, Bertolet had never kicked in an NFL regular season game — until today.
"It's been about four or five years now going after it, trying to get [on a team]," Bertolet said. "I've been on, I think, six NFL teams, been in 10 preseason games so to finally get an opportunity, I appreciate it."
Bertolet seized the opportunity, nailing each of his three field goal tries and three extra point attempts. With the wind being a factor at times, quarterback Justin Herbert credited Bertolet on his NFL debut.
"It got a little windy at times and it is not easy," Herbert added. "That job is definitely one of the tougher in the league. For [Bertolet] to step up, we had complete confidence in him. He came into practice on Thursday, was perfect on the field goals, and the entire team was rallying behind him. To see that, that was huge for him."
In a game that was decided by two points, Bertolet was crucial. Joining the team on Thursday and not knowing if he was going to kick until this morning, a lot of things could've gone wrong, but Bertolet credited long snapper Josh Harris and punter/holder JK Scott, who were big components in his successful NFL debut.
"It felt good to finally get an opportunity to come out and play," said Bertolet. "Josh [Harris] and [JK Scott] made it super easy. Had about one or two days of practice, for them to come out and snap be perfect operations, it was really easy to do my job."
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