NFL roundtable: Why Chargers didn't collapse and Rams collapsed lowly Jaguars

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Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (25) intercepts the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)
Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (25) intercepts a Joe Burrow pass against the Bengals. The Chargers' defense stiffened in the fourth quarter. (Emilee Chinn / Associated Press)

The Chargers beat the Cincinnati Bengals on the road for their biggest victory of the season. The Rams ended their losing streak at three games with a 30-point victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars but have their biggest game to date next week at the NFC-leading Arizona Cardinals on Monday night. What did we learn in Week 13? In this crazy season, nothing about Week 14. However, mediated by Los Angeles Times NFL editor Athan Atsales, Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller and NFL writer Sam Farmer discuss what could come next:

OK, let me start by asking this about the Chargers. Admit it. When the Chargers blew a 24-0 lead and were ahead 24-22, did you think L.A. was going to lose?

Miller: Hey, I know this team well. So, of course, I thought they were going to lose. I'm guessing most Chargers fans thought their team was losing, as well. The term is "Chargering," after all, not "Bengaling," although that's a pretty fitting made-up word too for a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since leather helmets. Yeah, I know the Chargers well, which is why I picked them to lose Sunday by a touchdown-plus.

Farmer: Definitely thought they were headed for an epic meltdown. In years past, they probably would have lost. It’s a credit to Brandon Staley and the confidence he has engendered that they rallied and pulled away, especially on the road. That was impressive. Now, if they can avoid those close calls in the first place …

Klein: Listen, with a quarterback like Justin Herbert are you ever out of a game? I was in the SoFi press box, probably answering questions from Rams fans on Twitter or eating some fried green tomatoes from the buffet, when Tevaughn Campbell scooped that fumble and scored. Last season, when Brandon Staley was their defensive coordinator, the Rams made all kinds of plays like that.

Chargers fans have grown accustomed to disturbing losses, collapses, weird plays ... over the years. Does anything seem different about this team compared to the Anthony Lynn teams the last few years?

Farmer: Again, the Chargers were closers Sunday. That’s not to say they always will be, but this one goes in the confidence bank.

Miller: The Chargers have told us plenty about this year feeling different, about how new head coach Brandon Staley has promoted a belief with his aggressiveness and progressiveness. Winning the fourth quarter in Cincinnati 17-0 after the direction this game was skidding is pretty darn impressive. I will say this, don't forget how the 2018 Chargers under Lynn won a string of ridiculous late-decided games too.

Klein: I didn’t watch many Chargers games the last few years — or this year. But they don’t seem to be losing as many top players to season-ending injuries. Their playmakers are actually available to make plays. And Herbert is another year older.

Do you think Sony Michel might have earned himself more snaps with his performance against Jacksonville, or is Darrell Henderson still going to get the bulk of the carries when healthy?

The Rams' Sony Michel looks for running room against the Jaguars.
The Rams' Sony Michel (25) looks for running room against the Jaguars. With Darrell Henderson sidelined, Michel was given more carries and he topped 100 yards rushing. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Klein: Don’t know why Sean McVay wouldn’t keep giving the ball to Michel. Save for one fumble this season, he has been rock-solid. He’s also the kind of tough runner that falls forward after contact. More than anything else, he seems durable, and capable of more than 20 productive carries a game. He helped restore the play-action game. If you want a change-of-pace back, why not use the less durable Henderson in that more limited role?

Farmer: But when Henderson is healthy, he’s more explosive. I would think the Rams would give him the bulk of the carries. But Sony Michel had the team’s only 100-yard rushing performance this season. He ran hard between the tackles and, like you said, fell forward for extra yards and played a significant role in the win.

Yes, I know a win over Jacksonville is nothing to get too excited about, but what should Rams fans be especially encouraged about from that performance?

Farmer: A few things. Hate the word, but the Rams rediscovered their swagger. They pulled off a decisive victory in advance of a huge test at Arizona. This wasn’t a top-heavy, one-dimensional win driven solely by the Rams’ stars. A lot of bottom-of-the-roster guys contributed, including Coleman Shelton, who filled in at center from the second snap forward. Now, the Rams need to prove they can reliably beat good teams too.

Klein: That’s funny, Sam. Several times in the last few years, players have mentioned how another player has “swag.” Whenever I ask another player about that, and use the word, younger reporters for some reason crack up at hearing me say it. Oh, well. In any case, Rams fans can be encouraged that McVay committed to the rushing attack as a means to move the ball and open the passing game. Bottom line: Matthew Stafford committed no turnovers. After three games of seemingly nothing but, that had to be encouraging.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray scrambles for a first down against the Rams in October.
The Rams are going to have to deal with chasing Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who returned from injury last week. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

If the Rams don't beat Arizona next week, thoughts of an NFC West title are pretty much over. What makes you think the Rams can pull that off after already having lost to the Cardinals at home?

Klein: Arizona is not New Orleans. Or Green Bay. Or any other place that is especially tough on visiting teams because of the atmosphere or crowd. Under McVay, the Rams have never had trouble winning at what was formerly University of Phoenix Stadium and is now State Farm Stadium. Of course, that was before Kyler Murray began playing like an MVP candidate.

Farmer: Barring a total collapse by the Cardinals, I think the Rams would be hard pressed to win the NFC West whether they win Monday night or not. It feels like this is a wild-card year. That said, the Rams can definitely win at Arizona. Remember, before the Cardinals beat them earlier this season, the Sean McVay-coached Rams never lost to Arizona.

Miller: This is the NFL in 2021. The Rams — and anyone else — could win as three-touchdown underdogs on Pluto. Well, OK, maybe not the Jaguars.

With five games remaining, the Chargers play the struggling Giants and Texans, and three games against AFC West rivals — the Chiefs and Broncos at home, and the finale at the Raiders. If the Chargers win just two of their last five, do you think they'd qualify for the playoffs at 9-8?

Klein: One game over .500 and you make the playoffs? Know that can happen. But that’s still kind of bogus.

Farmer: I’m betting it takes 10 wins to get to the playoffs in the AFC.

Miller: I'm going to say no, but I'm also going to say the Chargers aren't going to win only two of their final five games. They should beat the Giants and Texans. I can't see them losing each of the other three games. Then again, on Sunday morning I couldn't see them winning Sunday afternoon, either.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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