Hard to overlook Chargers after win over Raiders

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

It has been easy to overlook the Chargers since they moved here four years ago.

At best, they are the third most favorite NFL team in Los Angeles, badly trailing the Rams, who they share SoFi Stadium with, and their arch rival Las Vegas Raiders, who called Los Angeles home for 13 years in the 1980 and 90s and still maintain much of their local fan base.

In their four previous seasons in L.A., when they played in Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, it often seemed like the Chargers were the visiting team, no matter who they were playing.

That wasn’t a problem last year at SoFi Stadium, because fans weren’t allowed at any games because of the pandemic.

The Chargers have now played two home games this season. Both times their fans were outnumbered by the visiting fans.

The first time, the Chargers lost to the Dallas Cowboys on a last-second field goal. The second game was Oct. 4, a Monday night game against the Raiders, whose fans once again outnumbered Chargers fans by plenty.

In the end, the fans didn’t matter. After the start of the game was delayed a half-hour by a lightning storm — only in L.A. can a stadium with a roof on it be delayed at the start by a lightning storm — the Chargers jumped all over the Raiders, leading 21-0 at halftime.

They relaxed a little in the third quarter and were outscored by 14 points, but came back to score the next touchdown and win 28-14. At 3-1 and tied for the division lead in the AFC West (with both the Raiders and Denver Broncos), it isn’t so easy to overlook the Chargers anymore.

They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Justin Herbert. They have solid wide receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and a solid running back in Austin Ekeler.

On defense, end Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James are among the best at their positions in the league, when healthy. That was a problem last season when neither was healthy.

James was a star as a rookie in 2018, intercepting three passes and taking part in 105 tackles. But he only played nine games in 2019 and 2020 combined.

Bosa missed four games last year.

Both are healthy this year, giving the Chargers two key players on defense to run new head coach Brandon Staley’s scheme.

The Rams had the best defense statistically under defensive coordinator Staley last year and Staley hopes to use the same schemes to take the Chargers to the top of the AFC West.

There’s a team called the Kansas City Chiefs currently in fourth place in the division that will have to be reckoned with later in the season, but the Chargers already have proved they can beat the Chiefs.

Herbert is blossoming into a star right in front of our eyes. He is completing 68.9% of his passes so far this year while throwing 9 touchdowns compared to 3 interceptions. And he is light enough on his feet to avoid the rush or pick up a first down on a read-option run, an extra dimension the Chargers offense never had with Philip Rivers at quarterback.

The Chargers have a quick turnaround this week, hosting the Cleveland Browns at SoFi Stadium Oct. 10, before facing the Baltimore Ravens on the road Oct. 17.

Those are two likely playoff teams that will test the Chargers before their bye week.

After the bye comes a home game against New England, followed by a trip to Philadelphia and a home game against Minnesota.

The Chargers could be 6-3 by that time and in the middle of the push to the playoffs.

Maybe by the time Minnesota comes to town Nov. 14 there will be more Chargers blue at SoFi than Vikings purple.

BUBBLE BURSTER: After their 3-0 start, Rams fans were starting to make plans for Super Bowl Sunday in February. Not so fast there. We have a few games left to play.

The Arizona Cardinals burst the bubble the Rams and their fans had built with expectations after that 3-0 start.

Quarterback Kyler Murray, now in his third year with the Cardinals, is one of the more exciting and dynamic quarterbacks in the league.

He carved up the Rams vaunted defense, completing 24 of 32 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns and running 6 times for 39 yards.

After spotting the Rams a 10-7 first quarter lead, the Cardinals outscored them 27-3 in the second and third quarters and the Rams spent the fourth quarter trying to pad their offensive stats.

The Cardinals had the ball on offense for 10 more minutes than the Rams and Matthew Stafford had his worst outing in his fourth start with the Rams. He completed only 26 of 41 passes for 280 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

The Cardinals took away the deep threat from Stafford, limiting him to only two completions longer than 20 yards.

The Rams now face a quick turnaround this week, travelling to Seattle for the Thursday night game. The Seahawks are 2-2 in the uber competitive NFC West and would fall two games behind the Rams and possibly three behind the Cardinals if they were to lose again.

Expect coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson to come prepared for the Rams. Hopefully, coach Sean McVay, Stafford and the rest of the Rams will be ready for them.

TOPSY TURVY: The fortunes of our local college football teams continue to be up and down like a wild roller coaster ride.

The UCLA Bruins, who were riding high after wins over Hawaii, LSU and Stanford in their first four games, came crashing down to earth against Arizona State Oct. 2. After playing the Sun Devils even in a 24-23 first half, the Bruins were shut out in the final 30 minutes, even though they controlled the ball for nine more minutes.

Quarterback Dorian Robinson-Thompson was outplayed by Jayden Daniels.

Daniels only completed 13 of 19 passes, but he averaged 22 yards a completion and hooked up with receiver Ricky Pearsall on long scoring plays of 65 and 54 yards in the first half.

Daniels also averaged 7.5 yards a carry on 6 runs as the Sun Devils averaged 8.9 yards per play on the night.

The Bruins were only outgained by 28 yards, but they ran 84 plays to 52 for the Sun Devils. They failed on three of five fourth-down conversions and committed eight penalties.

Thompson-Robinson passed for 235 yards and ran for another 96 but he couldn’t lead the Bruins to a score in the second half and the Bruins dropped out of the Top 25 as their record fell to 3-2.

The Bruins should be able to right themselves with a trip to Tucson, Arizona Oct. 9 where they will meet the Arizona Wildcats who are still looking for their first win of the season.

The Bruins hope the team that showed up against LSU and Stanford shows up in Tucson instead of the team that showed up last week.

The game starts at 7:30 p.m.

The USC Trojans continued their uneven season with a solid overall performance in Boulder, Colorado, where they beat the Colorado Buffaloes, 37-14.

The Trojans played well on both sides of the ball, holding the Buffaloes to only 242 total yards, 80 on the ground.

The Trojans had a balanced 494 yards, 276 through the air and 212 on the ground.

Kedon Slovis had an unspectacular game at quarterback for the Trojans, completing 19 of 29 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Keaontay Ingram had his best game of the season with 124 yards on 14 carries.

Wide receiver Drake London continued his bid for the Fred Biletnikoff Award that goes to the best receiver in college football.

He caught 9 more passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Through five games, he has 48 catches for 670 yards, more than he had in entire seasons his first two years with the Trojans.

The Trojans have an important battle with Utah at 5 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Coliseum before a bye week followed by a trip to South Bend, Indiana, for their annual battle with Notre Dame.

They are now 2-2 in Pac 12 play and can ill afford to lose another conference game and expect to play for the conference title in December.

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