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Chargers review: They can clinch 5th seed by beating Broncos

Here’s what we learned, what we heard and what comes next after the Chargers defeated the Rams in dominating fashion on Sunday, earning their fourth consecutive victory and opening the very real possibility that they’ll secure the fifth-seeded spot in the AFC wild-card playoffs:

WHAT COMES NEXT

The Chargers need a victory over the Denver Broncos in their regular-season finale on Sunday to finish fifth. Actually, they’re in fifth at the moment, thanks to their victory over the Rams and the Baltimore Ravens’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chargers need to win Sunday to stay there, however.

The Chargers and Ravens are each 10-6, but the Chargers hold the tiebreaker if they were to finish the regular season with identical records. By finishing fifth, the Chargers would face the winner of the AFC South, either the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Tennessee Titans, on wild-card weekend.

Denver is 4-12 but gave the Kansas City Chiefs all they could handle in a 27-24 loss on Sunday, one week after a 51-14 beatdown at the hands of the Rams. The Chargers defeated the Broncos 19-16 in overtime on Oct. 17 at SoFi Stadium, extending their three-game winning streak.

“Our approach is going to be to try to win this ballgame and try to play as well as we can heading into the playoffs,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said Monday of taking Sunday’s game as another must-win game. “There’s certainly an advantage to being the five seed from where I stand.”

It’s likely Staley could rest some players, however.

“If we feel like that would be a good decision, we’ll take that case-by-case,” he said without getting into specifics of who could get a break. “Going into the playoffs, you’ve got to be playing (well) to get where you want to go, so we’re going to maximize our group heading into the playoffs, for sure.”

RUNNING IT BACK

Not since their Oct. 9 victory over the Cleveland Browns have the Chargers run the ball as effectively as they did during their victory over the Rams. The Chargers ran for a season-best 238 yards in a 30-28 victory over the Browns. They gained 192 in their 31-10 victory over the Rams.

Austin Ekeler had a season-high 173 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries against Cleveland. He had 122 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries against the Rams. The Chargers attempted 34 runs against the Browns, averaging 7 yards per carry. They had 31 runs against the Rams, averaging 6.2 yards.

“What has been working?” Ekeler asked during a video conference call Monday. “I’ve gotten some holes, which has been nice. I’ve been able to take advantage of those. I’ve been making some people miss, which has been nice. The run game has been up and down. It’s been really different.

“It’s been game-to-game. How’s this going to go in this next game? But in this last game, we were able to mesh as a whole unit, not just the O-line, but also the receivers blocking and making critical blocks to spring success in the run game, as well. We’ve done pretty well compared to what we’ve done in the past.”

Ekeler’s 72-yard touchdown that put the Chargers ahead 14-3 in the second quarter on Sunday was the longest of his career. He had a 71-yard run in the Chargers’ victory over the Browns, but he was caught from behind at the Cleveland 4, and he had no desire for a repeat against the Rams.

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“In my head, I remembered my old run from the Browns game, and I was thinking, ‘Do not get caught. Do not get caught. Pick up my knees and run,’” he said. “I had just enough. I had just enough speed to make it there. I’d like to think I’m in pretty good shape, so a sprint here and there ain’t gonna kill me.”

BOSA UPDATE

Edge rusher Joey Bosa was on the field for 24 of 49 defensive snaps on Sunday in his first game since suffering a groin injury that required surgery during the Chargers’ loss against the Jaguars on Sept. 25. He was not available for comment after the Chargers’ victory over the Rams on Sunday.

“I think it was very important for him to get out there and play because the players know that they need to get into football shape,” Staley said after Sunday’s game. “They need to get their pads on, they need to go play, they need to know what it’s like to go in and out, playing with pace.”

“You need to get all that football stuff acclimated so that you can go be your best. It was a good step for him (Sunday). I thought that he had a couple of really good rushes out there. More than anything, it’s just him playing the game and getting that accumulation of snaps so that he can be better next week.”

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