Chargers review: Toughness is a hallmark of their success

The Chargers took care of business and the woebegone Indianapolis Colts on Monday night, clinching their first AFC wild-card playoff berth since the 2018 season. Here’s what we learned, what we heard and what comes next for the playoff-bound Chargers:


Say what you will about an offense that hasn’t scored a touchdown in 10 consecutive third quarters. Say what you will about a defense that until recently gave up huge chunks of ground against opposing running backs. Say what you will about a team with so many injuries, some serious.

What stands out about the Chargers after 15 games this season is their resilience, their perseverance, their toughness. They had so many reasons to fold like a warm tortilla, starting with injuries to quarterback Justin Herbert, wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, defensive end Joey Bosa, cornerback J.C. Jackson and left tackle Rashawn Slater.

In the end, the Chargers overcame their injuries, which led to their lackluster play at times earlier this season, and they advanced to the playoffs – just as they expected when they arrived for training camp in July. When they faced must-win games down the stretch, the Chargers won them.

“We’ve got the makeup to withstand the type of season that we’ve had, and I think that we would not be here today if it were not for the toughness of our football team, the makeup of our football team,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said after Monday’s victory over the Colts.

“I think for far too long people have talked about the talent of this team … and that’s ultimately not what gets you where you want to go. You have to prove your toughness. We’ve proven so far that we have a tough enough team mentally and physically to be where we are right now.”

Where did the toughness come from?

It came through shrewd additions during the offseason, after the Chargers failed to make the playoffs.

“We onboarded it,” Staley said late Monday night. “We have a lot of toughness that we’ve onboarded in two years here, and then we’ve built off the guys that were here before that have it. You know, that’s what you have to do. You can’t just instill toughness in someone. They either have it or they don’t, so what you have to do is you have to join up with the right guys.”

Staley mentioned the offseason acquisitions of players such as edge rushers Khalil Mack and Kyle Van Noy, cornerback Bryce Callahan and defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day. He also spoke of veteran Chargers such as wide receivers Allen, Williams and running back Austin Ekeler.

“Our mission is to join up with tough football players,” Staley said. “Mike Williams is a tough football player. Justin Herbert is a tough football player. Austin Ekeler is a tough football player, and we’re going to keep getting as many of them in our program as possible because that’s what it takes and that’s why we’re here, because of the toughness of our football team.”


The postgame consensus was that the Chargers can still raise the level of their play. They can be more effective inside the opposing team’s 20-yard line. They can avoid penalties that stall drives. They can be more consistent, avoiding the wild swings of effectiveness that have marked this season.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best as a team yet,” Staley said. “I think that that’s still out there for us, but I think that we’re exhibiting a lot of toughness, doing a lot of the things that you need in order to be successful. Taking the football away, being good on third down on defense, keeping the explosive (plays to a minimum), keeping a roof on the coverage, tackling well.”


Staley said Tuesday that safety Derwin James Jr. would be considered day to day after he entered concussion protocol following a helmet-to-helmet hit on Colts wide receiver Ashton Dulin. It was uncertain whether James would play Sunday against the Rams, with the Chargers having clinched a postseason berth.

Fullback Zander Horvath sprained his ankle in Monday’s game, Staley said.

Staley said there was nothing new on the status of Bosa, who underwent groin surgery after he was injured in the Chargers’ Week 3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Bosa has been working out recently, but he hasn’t joined his teammates for practice during the portions open to reporters.

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The Chargers end the regular season with games against the Rams on Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium and either Jan. 7 or 8 against the Broncos in Denver. Staley indicated the Chargers’ plan going into Sunday’s game is to “continue to improve” and “the only way to do it is by competing.”

“Our goal is to play really well against the Rams,” he said.

Translation: The Chargers’ starters will likely play against the Rams (5-1) on Sunday and, perhaps, get some rest against the Broncos (4-11) in the regular-season finale.

“We’ll take it game by game,” Staley said.

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