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5 Takeaways: Herbert Plays Hero Again in Bolts Thriller

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The Bolts are 8-6 after a 17-14 win over the Titans.

Here are five takeaways from Week 15 at SoFi Stadium:

1. Justin Herbert comes up clutch

At some point late in the game Sunday, Justin Herbert made his way over to his defensive teammates on the sideline.

For most of Week 15, the Chargers quarterback had had an up-and-down day. He'd thrown a pair of interceptions and led his unit to just 14 points.

But he had a message for his squad as the minutes ticked away.

"Your triggerman is the answer for your whole team," said Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley. "The other thing, if you take a look at the ballgame from the sideline, just how into it he was with the defense … he barked at our guys and said, 'I got it. I got it, fellas. You just give us a chance, and we got it.' That's what you want from your triggerman, and that's why I'm proud of him.

"He's not going to be happy with how we play today, and neither am I," Staley added. "That's the other reason why we love him, because he's not satisfied with how we play. He has a high standard for performance. You need your best player to play well at the end, and that's what he does."

As long as there is time left on the clock, Herbert is always going to give the Bolts a chance.

And he did just that late against the Titans, leading a game-winning drive to propel the Bolts to a 17-14 win that moved the Chargers to 8-6 on the season.

The Bolts took the ball at their own 23-yard line with 44 seconds to go.

Herbert hit Mike Williams for 16 yards before Gerald Everett gained 6 yards and got out of bounds.

Then came the defining moment, a 35-yard strike to Williams down the right sideline that gave the Bolts the ball at the Titans 20-yard line.

It was all but over from there, as the Chargers soon hit a walk-off, 43-yard field goal to seal it.

And on a day that wasn't Herbert's best overall, he came up clutch when it mattered most.

Not that his teammates and coaches were surprised.

"Oh man, it was awesome. He was dicing them," said center Corey Linsley. "We really had no doubt going out on the field. We were like, 'We're going to get this thing done.' Full belief in Justin. Everything he can do, we've seen. It was really cool.

Linsley later added: "Justin threw that thing on a rope."

"I thought he had his best one his best was required," Staley said. "You saw all the things that make him special there; his resilience, his poise, his play-making.

"You find out about your quarterback in two-minute, and it was an amazing two-minute drill for him," Staley later added.

For Herbert, it was the 13th game-winning drive of his career, and the fifth this season. He also had them against Cleveland, Denver, Atlanta and Arizona.

"I think it's just one of those things that experience is the best teacher and having gone through that and being able to rep it and knowing that you have the guys around you to make plays," Herbert said. "Just experiences and knowing that we are going to call the right plays and we're going to get the ball moving."

Overall, Herbert finished with 313 passing yards but no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was also sacked three times and had a passer rating of 68.8.

But when it was money time, he stepped up in the clutch.

Just like he said he would.

"We didn't put up as many points as we would have liked to," Herbert said of his late-game mindset. "Going over to [the defense] and just telling them, 'Hey, keep doing a great job. You guys are fighting. We'll get it figured out as an offense.' It was good for us to be able to drive down there at the end."

2. Back-to-back big wins

Don't look now, but here come the Chargers.

The Bolts have won-back-to back games against a pair of AFC playoff contenders — Miami and Tennessee — to get to 8-6.

Even better, the Chargers currently reside in the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture after Week 15.

Staley and Herbert both commented on the recent run by the Bolts.

"It's been tight since the bye [week]. Every game that we have played is against the team that's in the hunt," Staley said. "I think that we've played quality football since the bye. We've been in a lot of these tight games. We're used to being in these games. I think that you see the poise and the confidence in our team come alive, even when it's tight.

"That's a good football team. They've been in the playoffs three straight years, probably going to go four. They have a lot of players that have been in big games," Staley added about the Titans. "To beat them after they've lost three games, they were playing with a lot of purpose. You saw what Miami did the other night. For us to have two quality wins in a row at home, I'm very proud of our team."

Herbert added: "I think it's a great opportunity for us to keep playing football. There is a lot of football left. Just being able to hang tough and be able to win a game like that, especially in December, it's good to see from us."

Linsley is a nine-year veteran who has played in 126 career games and 11 more in the playoffs.

The center shouted out Breiden Fehoko as an example of what the Bolts synergy is like right now.

"Given the way the defense has stepped up, seeing them go out there … to me, seeing Fehoko go out there and do an excellent job … that gives me all the confidence in the world that we're going to get this thing done," Linsley said. "It's that complimentary football. I'm watching him dominate so it's like, 'Let's go.'

"The defense is rolling and we've got that team mentality," Linsley added. "Should we continue down this path … these two weeks could end up being a real turning point in the season."

The Chargers still have plenty of work to do but have set themselves up nicely for a playoff push in the final three games.

"We just have to control what we can control," Williams said. "We can't control those other games that are going on, we just got to continue to take one game at a time, be 1-0 every week and just keep fighting."

Austin Ekeler added: "Just keep chipping away, chipping away, hopefully we put ourselves in a spot where we can secure ourselves in the playoffs."

The Chargers are at the Colts on Monday Night Football in Week 16.

3. Depth shines on defense

The Bolts defense racked up four sacks on Ryan Tannehill on Sunday.

It was the most sacks in a game from the defense since Week 6 against the Broncos.

And it was a different cast of characters who led the way, not the usual suspect such as Khalil Mack.

"I thought we rushed the passer well, put a lot of pressure on the quarterback today," Staley said.

Joe Gaziano notched the first sack of his career on the final play of the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Chris Rumph II, Kyle Van Noy and Drue Tranquill all got home on Tannehill at crucial moments.

Rumph's sack might have been the hidden play of the game. The Titans had third-and-9 at the Bolts 24, but Rumph's sack pushed Tennessee back nine yards.

The ensuing 51-yard field goal was wide right, and might have been good from a shorter distance.

Van Noy recorded his second straight game with a sack before Tranquill also got to Tannehill on third down. That forced a Titans punt when they were right on the edge of field goal range.

"I felt like we got a lot of quality inside and outside pressure. It wasn't just perimeter pressure, we had good pressure up the middle," Staley said. "We had good rushes from linebackers. With as much attention that's being put on Khalil Mack, I think that we've had other people step up.

"You saw Chris Rumph, Kyle Van Noy, Joe Gaziano and our linebackers were rushing," Staley said.

Rumph said: "I think it's just everybody doing their jobs. When everybody does their job consistently over time, good things are going to happen."

Morgan Fox added: "Those guys came with huge sacks. Right when we needed them, guys made plays. There were great calls and guys executing and doing their job."

Browse through live action photos of the Bolts Week 15 matchup against the Tennessee Titans at SoFi Stadium!

4. Mike Dub delivers

Linsley let out a little laugh when asked about Williams' final catch of the game.

"You put that ball up there, man, Mike can come down with it more times than not," Linsley chuckled. "It was awesome to see.

"Just the stuff we've seen him do all camp, all season, every day in practice," Linsley added. "Nothing new to us. That type of confidence we had going out there, it helps everybody."

Williams had four catches for 67 yards on Sunday, but none were bigger than the 35-yarder to help set up Cameron Dicker's game-winning field goal.

Hebert rolled to his right and saw Williams put his hand up, a signal that he wanted to be able to jump and get it.

Just the kind of play Williams loves.

"Justin just scrambled and I was just pointing, just telling him to give me a chance to catch the ball. He threw it and I made a play," Williams said.

The chemistry between the two was on full display, and not by accident either. It's the culmination of hours and hours of practice and game reps to get that play drilled to perfection.

"He is just a special athlete and he wants nothing but the best for this team," Herbert said. "To have a guy like that, a competitor, an athlete, a teammate like that in the locker room, we're better off because of him."

Staley added: "Just the chemistry those guys have like — as he was rolling right, you could just see that he was going to put it back shoulder, back in bounds, where the defender couldn't make a play on it. Those guys just have that magic that you need to have."

Williams said there was little doubt he — or someone else — would come through on the final drive.

"It ain't over until it's over with us," Williams said.

5. Bolts fare well against Henry

Derrick Henry's final stat line would be welcomes by most running backs.

21 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown.

But the Chargers defense was relatively pleased with how they fared against one of the league's best backs.

Staley described the game plan it took to keep Henry in check.

"Knock-back. Edges. Second-level. Swarm. That's what it was today. We tackled well," Staley said. "We didn't have any of these catastrophic misses, where you see this guy — and it's all over his movie, he's been in the NFL in a long time, and it was all over his movie in college at Alabama.

"We tackled well today and we were coming to hit him today," Staley added. "So often, you feel the yards after contract because you're kind of absorbing him, and I didn't feel that today. I felt like our guys were aggressive."

Yes, Henry had four runs of 10-plus yards. But he didn't have one of at least 15 yards.

Overall, it ranked as the sixth-best game of Henry's season, not too shabby for a Bolts defense that entered the game ranked near the bottom in run defense.

"[Henry] is a great back," Tranquill said. "Still probably the King of running backs in the NFL when you just look at physically he's able to do and the wear and tear he's able to put on the defense.

"But man, down some guys, we came out and we were just playing together," Tranquill added.

Staley said being able to keep the ground game under control helped lead to the sacks late in the game.

And it all led to a second consecutive game where the Bolts defense held an opponent to 17 points or less.

"We made it tough on him in the run game," Staley said. "Our guys really competed today. I thought that that was the story of the game, was how our defense played."

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