INGLEWOOD, Calif. – It was a situation that once provoked anxiety from the Los Angeles Chargers and their fans.
At halftime Monday night, the Chargers led the Las Vegas Raiders 21-0.
“In years past, you come in at half with a lead, I’m like, ‘Oh, God. What are we going to do this time to screw this up?’ ” said Joey Bosa, the Chargers’ star pass rusher. “It’s kind of how my mind worked because it just happened so many times.’’
The Chargers did more than beat the Raiders 28-14 on “Monday Night Football”, improve to 3-1 and move into a three-way tie atop the AFC West with the Raiders and the Denver Broncos.
They also showed why they’re regaining the trust of their fans.
The Chargers quarterback got sacked twice and hit hard on other plays but never looked rattled.
In the first half, he threw three touchdowns, and he finished the game with 222 yards on 25-of-38 passing, and another key stat: zero interceptions.
Through four games, Herbert has looked more like a veteran than a second-year pro in completing 68.9 percent of his passes, averaging 294.5 passing yards per game and throwing nine touchdowns with three interceptions.
“He’s got that cool, calm composure that affects everybody in a positive way, including me,” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said.
The Chargers have given Herbert an array of talented receivers, including Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, and he’s taking advantage of it.
“He’s a special talent,’’ Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said of Herbert.
Staley, the Chargers’ first-year head coach, is winning over his players with an aggressive approach.
On Monday night, the Chargers went 2-for-3 on fourth-down tries. The biggest gamble came with 9:24 left to play and the Chargers facing fourth-and-2 at the 50 while protecting a 21-14 lead. Herbert connected with Jared Cook on a 13-yard reception.
Six plays later, the Chargers took a 28-14 lead on Austin Ekeler’s 11-yard touchdown run.
The Chargers also went for it on fourth-and-2 from their own 46 with 6:22 left in the third quarter fourth and leading 21-7.
Herbert found Cook for a 6-yard reception.
“It’s awesome that he believes in us, because everybody in the huddles believes in each other too,’’ Herbert said.
It looks better than expected based on its performance Monday night. The Chargers held the Raiders to 213 yards in offense and ended the recent “M-V-P” chants for quarterback Derek Carr.
During the Raiders’ 3-0 start, Carr averaged 401 passing yards per game, the best in the NFL. But against the Chargers, he managed only 196 yards on 21-of-34 passing with two touchdowns and an interception. He also got sacked four times, including one by defensive lineman Christian Covington on a critical third down in the fourth quarter.
“We knew once we hit him a few times, he really gets shook and you saw him on C.C.’s sack,” Bosa said. “He was pretty much curling into a ball before we get back there. So great dude, great player. He’s been having a great year. But we know once you get pressure on him he kind of shuts down and he’s not as effective.”
Blown leads are part of Chargers’ lore. But the team reached a new low last season, blowing leads of 16 or more points in four consecutive games.
The possibility of another blown lead arose when the Raiders pulled within 21-14, but the Chargers showed resilience in closing out the victory with a key stop and a 10-play, 58-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Cook, the Chargers’ tight end who had six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown, was asked what he likes about the team.
“The resilience and the fight,” he said, “and the talent that we have that nobody thinks we have. We have talent all the way across the board.”
THE NEW COACH
Sure, it’s too early to grade Brandon Staley, in his first year as an NFL head coach. But he seems to have won over his players after victories over the Washington Football Team, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Raiders.
“I think we’re just coming together as a team and we all believe in each other, believe in the coaching,” said Bosa, who later added, “There’s a team of guys that really bought in to what he’s teaching.”
Count Gruden among the believers.
“They cannot deny the Chargers are a good football team,” he said. “They are an excellent team. And they proved it again tonight. They’re going to go places this year. They’re going to be a force to be dealt with.”