SPORTS DIGEST: Chargers put themselves in position for playoffs

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

If Los Angeles is going to have a team in the NFL playoffs this season it will have to be the Chargers.

The Rams continued their face plant of a season Dec. 19 with a 24-12 loss to the Green Bay Packers, effectively eliminating them from post-season contention. The Rams are in danger of posting the worst record the year after winning a Super Bowl than any team in NFL history.

The Denver Broncos went 6-10 in 1999 the year after winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

The Broncos could blame that lost season on the retirement of quarterback John Elway. The Rams can blame a rash of injuries to star players like receiver Cooper Kupp, quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, as well as several offensive linemen.

The Chargers would be in the playoffs if they started this week. They are tied for the sixth best record in the AFC with the Miami Dolphins and they beat the Dolphins 23-17 Dec. 11.

They finish the season against three teams with losing records: the Indianapolis Colts Dec. 26, the Rams Jan. 1 and the Denver Broncos Jan. 8.

Plagued by injuries to key players most of the season, the Chargers are getting healthy at the right time.

Receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are both back in the lineup and safety Derwin James is expected to return this week or next. If they can get defensive end Joey Bosa healthy, the Chargers could be a team to reckon with come playoff time.

Quarterback Justin Herbert is getting better and better and is starting to run up numbers that rank with any quarterback in the first three seasons of their career.

He was superb in leading the Chargers to the winning field goal against the Tennessee Titans Dec. 18, driving the team 52 yards in six plays in only 44 seconds with no timeouts left.

He already holds a fistful of NFL records including most passing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback, most 300 yards games by a rookie quarterback, most completions by a rookie quarterback, most passing yards and total touchdowns in a quarterback’s first two seasons.

Last week, he broke Andrew Luck’s record for most passing yards in the first three seasons of a career. Luck’s mark for most touchdown passes in the first three seasons of a career could be next.

Herbert is turning into the player the Chargers hoped he would become when they drafted him sixth overall in the 2020 draft.

The Chargers still need to get better blocking up front, not only to protect Herbert but to open up running room for Austin Ekeler. He is too good a running back to have only 692 yards rushing at this point in the season.

Coach Brandon Staley is getting better in his second season, but he still tends to gamble too much offensively on fourth downs. Sometimes punting the ball is the right thing to do.

The Chargers haven’t been to the playoffs since 2018, when they lost in the divisional round. They have the talent — and the schedule — to get there again.

It would give Herbert a chance to shine when the whole country is watching.

THROW IN THE TOWEL: The Rams officially threw in the towel on this year’s season Dec. 20 when they put center Brian Allen and receiver Ben Skowronek on injured reserve with calf injuries.

They will finish the season with games against the Denver Broncos, the Chargers and Seattle Seahawks. They need to win all three to avoid having the worst season in history the season after winning a Super Bowl.

General manager Les Snead will have a tough time rebuilding the Rams this offseason with no first-round draft pick and not much space under the salary cap.

Don’t be surprised if Jalen Ramsey or Aaron Donald gets traded in the offseason to clear cap space and to acquire draft picks with which to rebuild.

RIVALRY GAME: The Los Angeles area is home to two teams in most professional sports leagues, as well as UCLA and USC in college sports.

The most intense of those rivalries is also the youngest — that between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club in Major League Soccer.

The two teams announced this week that they would open the 2023 against each other at a neutral site — Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

In the past, the Rose Bowl has drawn some big crowds for soccer games featuring international teams.

The gold medal match in the 1984 Olympics between Brazil and France drew a crowd of 101,254. Last July, 93,702 packed the place to see Italy’s Juventus play Spain’s Real Madrid.

The Rose Bowl is much bigger than the home fields of the Galaxy or LAFC.

LAFC, the reigning MLS champion, plays at Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park, which has a capacity of 22,000. The Galaxy play at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, which holds 27,000 fans.

Moving the game to the Rose Bowl will cost both teams the intimacy and energy a sold-out crowd provides in a home stadium, but it will be an interesting test to see how many soccer fans will turn out for the first game of the regular season.

The game will be played at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 25 and will be televised by Apple.

With the World Cup still on everybody’s mind, this might be a chance to check out the caliber of soccer the local professional teams play.

SAME OLD AD: I guess it should come as no surprise that Anthony Davis is hurt again for the Lakers. Davis had been playing well for the Lakers during December until he hurt his foot against the Denver Nuggets Dec. 16.

He is expected to be sidelined a month, just when the Lakers were starting to jell as a team.

They managed to beat Denver without Davis playing the second half and beat the Washington Wizards two nights later, but the Phoenix Suns blew the Lakers out of the gym Dec. 19, 130-104, a game that saw LeBron James and Russell Westbrook sitting in street clothes on the sideline with Davis.

When healthy, Davis is averaging 27.4 points and 12.1 rebounds a game. At times this season he has been spectacular, becoming the team leader the Lakers have always hoped he would be, but he has already missed five of the team’s first 30 games and will now miss another 15, meaning his chances of playing more than 60 games this season are slim.

And the Lakers won’t make the playoffs if Davis doesn’t play more than 60 games.

With Davis out, Thomas Bryant gets more playing time at center. He scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds after replacing Davis Dec. 16 and scored 16 points each in the next two games.

But Bryant is no Davis at either end of the court.

With Davis sidelined, more of the burden falls on the 38-year-old shoulders of James, who has missed more games than Davis so far this season.

James is still one of the best players in the game. But he can no longer put a team on his shoulders and carry it to a title like he did in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If the Lakers are going to make the playoffs this year, they will need a healthy Davis back sooner rather than later.