By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

As the schedule makers adjusted the schedule for the final week of the 2021 NFL regular season, they flexed the Los Angeles Chargers divisional match-up with the Las Vegas Raiders. Though both teams find themselves having relocated to new cities, this rivalry on the field dates back to 1960. This chapter of this storied rivalry finds these teams competing in a winner take all game as the winner secures a spot in the NFL playoffs this season.

By flexing or moving the start time to 5:20 pm Sunday, the NFL ensures football fans all across the nation get to see if the reigning rookie of the year, Justin Herbert, and potential Coach of the Year, Brandon Staley, can take these Chargers to the next level. Herbert has registered another record-breaking season, and Staley has activated the best this young Chargers team has to offer.  

So much so, Herbert set a team record in TD passes, last week and the Chargers have shown significant improvement. Their defense improved to sixth in points scored this season compared to 18th last season, they also improved from ninth in yards gained last season to fourth in yards gained coming into this Week 18 match-up against the Raiders.

The Raiders come into this game on a three-win streak as they, like other teams, overcame multiple setbacks this season. They did activate five players from the Reserve Covid for this week’s 18 match-up. Also, they’ve had to replace their head coach earlier in the season and they had to try and fill the void left by their young wide receiver back in week 8.  

The Raiders open the scoring in this game up with a 24 yards field goal. After forcing the Chargers to punt, the Raiders capitalize on a fumble from Andre Roberts by scoring a touchdown, giving them a 10-point lead.

The Chargers would bounce back with an Austin Ekeler touchdown run for their first score in the game. Justin Herbert would then hit Austin Ekeler for a 14-yard pass that he took into the endzone for his 20th touchdown on the season. Ekeler’s second touchdown gave the Chargers a four-point lead, with under two minutes remaining in the first half. These touchdowns would tie Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson for the second-most touchdowns in a single season in franchise history. However, the Raiders would respond with a seven-play 75 yards drive capped off by a short Josh Jacobs touchdown run to regain the lead, as the half ended.

After the Chargers missed a 51-yard field goal, to open the second half, the Raiders would push their lead to 6 points on short field goals from their consistent placekicker Daniel Carlson, after stopping the Chargers when Staley let his aggression get the best of him. Although, Staley has shown confidence in his guys by going for the first down on fourth down multiple times this season. Inside your own 20 yards line isn’t the best time to show your willingness to take chances.

“We just didn’t execute. We got behind the chains, we had some penalties a couple of turnovers and you can’t expect to win football games like that.”Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, said postgame about what the Raiders defense did to stifled their offense early in this match-up.

The now playoff-bound Raiders would add another touchdown to their total on a Derek Carr touchdown pass to Hunter Renfro. They would leave the door open for the Chargers when they weren’t able to capitalize on their two-point conversion attempt. Long-time Chargers defensive back Casey Hayward would gain some revenge from his former team when he picked off Herbert early in the fourth quarter.

Hayward’s interception led to three more points by the Raiders, increasing their lead to 29-14 with 4:32 second remaining in the game. However, on the strength of the arm of Justin Herbert, the Chargers would mount a feverish comeback.

First, Herbert hit Josh Palmer for the 23-yard touchdown, which they followed up with a short pass to Austin Ekeler for the 2-point conversion to narrow the Raiders lead to seven points. The Bolts defense would force a punt by the Raiders, giving them a chance to tie the game up. Herbert would do just that when he hit Mike Williams with a 12-yard pass to tie the game up just before the final buzzer of regulation. 

Both teams exchanged field goals early in overtime. The game got weird when the Raiders began their final drive with 4:30 left in overtime. As the seconds on the clock ticked away, the Raiders faced third down and four; to everyone’s dismay Staley would then call a timeout that appeared to assist the Raiders. Josh Jacobs would pick up 10 of his, a career high, 132 rushing yards on that critical down. Already in field goal position, the Raiders would let the clock wind down before kicking the game-winning field and send the Chargers back to Costa Mesa scratching their collective heads.   

“We certainly talked about it on the sidelines and wanted to see if they were going to call a timeout on that run, they didn’t. We thought they were thinking the same thing and we popped a run in there and we just tried to kick the field goal to win it. We certainly talked about it.” Raiders Head Coach Rich Bisaccia, said post-game about his consideration of running the clock down at the end to preserve the tie.  

“We needed to get in the right grouping. We felt like they were going to run the ball, so we wanted to get our best 11 personnel run defense in. Make that substitution so that, you know, we could get a play where we would deepen the field goal; and make their field goal as long as possible.” Staley said when asked about his decision to call a timeout with 38 seconds remaining in the game. 

“No, we were not. Our offense possessed the ball pretty much the whole fourth quarter, and we had plenty of juice in overtime. We missed a couple of tackles. We didn’t set the edge and we didn’t finish enough plays there in overtime where we had guys in position. We just didn’t make enough plays tonight.” Staley, said when asked if he thought their defense ran out of steam.

Kindly share your thoughts on the Charger’s progress this season; What do you think of the aggression and coaching style of Brandon Staley? This season was a learning opportunity for him, and he showed some quality traits for a head coach this season. The players swear by him, and I believe he has the confidence of the general manager and ownership moving forward. Which will enable him to build this team in his vision. 

What do you think about Staley’s rookie season as Head Coach? Let me know your thoughts by reaching out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or email or voiceofthefans@outlook.com? I’d love to hear any suggestions you have on what angles, or players, on this Los Angeles Chargers team you would like to read about this season. 

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