The Buffalo Bills traveled west to face the Los Angeles Chargers on Christmas Eve-eve, and while the Vegas line predicted a blowout, the Chargers were hellbent on changing that narrative. They nearly pulled it off, too, as they led 22-21 in the fourth quarter before the Bills and quarterback Josh Allen found a way to survive the first game of the Giff Smith era in LA.
There were quite a few Chargers who came up with solid performances, and there were a few on the offensive end who were beyond what I expected from a beleaguered unit. Credit to the Chargers, who fought hard and very nearly derailed Buffalo’s burgeoning playoff hopes in the process.
Here’s how our five Chargers to watch played this week.
RB Austin Ekeler
The veteran running back turned back the clock a bit on Saturday, looking every bit as elusive and hard to tackle as he’s ever been. The top-gear isn’t what it was a few years ago, but Ekeler is still a reliable receiver who can earn tough yards. Ekeler had 65 yards rushing on 15 carries — modest numbers — but the most Buffalo has allowed to an individual rusher since they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles before their bye. He added three catches on four targets for a total of 21 yards. It wasn’t Ekeler who scored on a rushing touchdown — that honor instead went to quarterback Easton Stick on a well-designed red zone play — but Ekeler kept the Chargers in good situations thanks to his success on first and second down running the ball.
TE Gerald Everett
The big tight end was the Chargers’ top receiver in the game, leading the squad in targets (8, tied with wideout Joshua Palmer) and receptions (7). He was second to Palmer in receiving yards, totaling just 42 yards on his seven catches. While the Bills did allow some bigger gaps in their coverage than they have the last few weeks, they were exceptionally sure in their tackling, as the Chargers rarely were able to pick up much after the catch. Thanks to the success of the play-action game, Stick was able to find Everett over the middle and in the flats when Buffalo’s linebackers bit on his run fakes. Everett kept the Chargers ahead of the sticks for most of the game, but as was a theme on the night, he couldn’t help them to punch the ball into the end zone when they really needed it.
WR Quentin Johnston
The big fella continued his quiet rookie season, as he was second on the Chargers in targets (5), but he made just two catches for 29 yards. His second grab was an eight-yard catch where the television crew noted just how slowly Johnston makes his moves after catching the ball — as a more agile receiver may have been able to turn upfield and threaten bigger yardage. Instead, Johnston was tackled almost immediately. He also was the intended receiver when Stick threw an interception to cornerback Christian Benford, a pick that was wiped out on a holding call on Benford. Johnston carried once in the game for one yard, at least officially, as he also ran a 13-yard carry on a jet sweep that was called back due to an illegal formation penalty.
EDGE Khalil Mack
For the second straight week, the Bills had to contend with a top-flight pass rusher. For the second-straight week, the Bills were able to keep that All-Pro caliber player from tackling quarterback Josh Allen in the backfield. Mack had four tackles and one quarterback hit, but he didn’t tally a sack. Allen was sacked once in the game, and it was split between linebackers Eric Kendricks and Tuli Tuipulotu. Buffalo’s pass protection certainly wasn’t perfect, but they’ve faced some pretty stiff tests of late and come out on the better end of the matchups each time.
CB Michael Davis
Davis had four tackles and no pass breakups this week, but it was an improvement over the performance he turned in against the Las Vegas Raiders the week prior. Davis was not the man in coverage who wide receiver Gabe Davis burned for a 57-yard touchdown — that was teammate Kenneth Murray Jr., a linebacker who chased Gabe in a scramble drill — but he was the corner closest in coverage when Davis caught a 36-yard pass to set up Buffalo’s third score of the night. Michael Davis began the aforementioned Gabe Davis touchdown in press coverage, but it was a zone concept, so he passed Gabe off and held the flat once Gabe was beyond him.
Overall, the Chargers did a nice job defensively in bouncing back from a 63-21 loss the week prior, and Michael Davis was one of the players who bounced back best.