Brandon Staley's Late-Game Gamble Stuns Cardinals in 25-24 Comeback Win
It wasn't the most complete performance by the Chargers this season, but a win is a win, and Brandon Staley's gamble late in the fourth quarter ultimately led to a 25-24 victory over the Cardinals Sunday at State Farm Stadium.
With time expiring, Justin Herbert found Austin Ekeler on back-to-back plays that resulted in the second completion being a floated pass to Ekeler for a 1-yard touchdown with 15 seconds left in regulation.
That left the Chargers with a game-altering decision at stake. They could kick the point after attempt to tie it and presumably head into overtime, or go for the two-point try and win it.
Staley, known for his aggressive nature, opted to go with a gutsy call and play for the win.
With the game on the line, Herbert hit Gerald Everett across the middle as Keenan Allen helped clear a throwing lane by drawing his defender with him to the far side of the field, while Ekeler departed from the backfield into the flat, also drawing attention. That allowed just enough time for Herbert to throw a strike to Everett, taking the lead with the last seconds ticking down.
"I think all the guys on offense wanted to be out there for that play," Herbert said of the two-point conversion. "We knew that we had a good play, the right guys on the field, and the offensive line did a great job protecting me, [giving] enough time to get the ball off and Gerald made a nice catch on the play."
The Chargers final drive, which started with 1:48 to go, featured Herbert completing 7-of-8 passes for a touchdown, paired with a successful two-point conversion to improve the team's record to 6-5 on the season.
Following the Chargers' come-from-behind win, Staley said he already had his mind made up that they would go for the two-point try earlier on the final drive before Ekeler's touchdown.
"When we made a couple first downs and the clock was winding we kind of said, 'hey, under 40 seconds that's going to be our mindset.'" Staley said of the thought process of going for the win on the final drive.
Herbert completed 35-of-47 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns to snap the Chargers' two-game losing skid. Herbert also had his biggest rushing game of the season, running for a season-high 38 yards on four attempts.
"He had a couple plays in there that are gangster plays from the quarterback position," Staley said of Herbert's Week 12 performance. "He threw an out-cut that was going to the right, it was earlier in the game, but just taking full ownership of the offense and seeing it."
As the Chargers defense allowed 17 points in the first half, they made improvements that led to better results in the final two quarters. The Cardinals had just one drive in the second half the resulted in points and went three-and-out on three possessions down the final stretch.
"I thought we played a quality second half," Staley said of the defense. "Although the first half was up and down, I thought our guys played rugged and tough. I thought Derwin [James], with the two takeaways, was just fantastic. We were plus two today in the takeaway margin and I thought our defense made enough winning plays for us to win the game."
James was responsible for each of the two takeaways, both coming in the first half. On Arizona's first possession, he knocked the ball loose from James Conner as Sebastian Joseph-Day recovered the ball for the Chargers. One quarter later, James came down with his first interception of the season when he picked off Kyler Murray's intended pass to DeAndre Hopkins.
On the injury front, the Chargers continue to take a beating. Center Corey Linsley exited the game with a concussion and right tackle Trey Pipkins left with a knee injury.
As the Chargers leave Arizona with a victory, they remain firmly in the mix for one of the Wild Card seeds. Up next they've travel to Las Vegas in Week 13 to face a Raiders team that's won each of their last two games.
*Get your Chargers tickets from SI Tickets by clicking here
Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.