Chargers-Colts score, takeaways: Justin Herbert shines, Nick Foles flops as Los Angeles clinches playoff berth

Everything was setting up for the Chargers to stumble over themselves once again. With an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth Monday night against the reeling Colts, Los Angeles barely managed a touchdown lead deep into Week 16’s prime-time finale. Star safety Derwin James got ejected early due to an illegal hit. And quarterback Justin Herbert fumbled the ball away to give Indianapolis momentum going into the final quarterback. No matter. Because Nick Foles’ debut as the Colts’ latest fill-in QB went about as poorly as possible. Feasting up front and getting just enough Herbert production down the stretch, Brandon Staley’s AFC West contender left Lucas Oil Stadium with a 20-3 victory and, more importantly, that coveted ticket to the postseason.

Falling to 4-10-1 with their fifth straight loss under interim coach Jeff Saturday, the Colts kept things close for a while, but ultimately were no match for LA, which never trailed in the contest.

Here are some additional takeaways from Monday night’s Chargers victory:

Why the Chargers won

They have someone who can throw the ball. On a night where Indy may have spoiled LA’s chance at a playoff berth if not for their third-string QB playing hero ball behind a shoddy O-line from the first snap, the Chargers got the “W” because their own signal-caller, Justin Herbert, delivered on just enough downfield strikes. Austin Ekeler was vital once again, albeit not consistently on the ground, so it was Herbert’s laser that saved the day, feeding Keenan Allen (11 catches, 104 yards) to keep LA knocking at the door. Brandon Staley’s defense was just as, if not more, important, steadily getting after Nick Foles and playing opportunistic ball in the secondary even after losing star safety Derwin James to a first-half ejection. Six different players logged a sack by night’s end, while the corner duo of Asante Samuel Jr. and Michael Davis had their way.

Why the Colts lost

The offensive line was once again iffy, surrendering seven sacks and nine QB hits. But unfortunately nothing doomed them more than Nick Foles, whose big-play mentality was a welcome idea for the Colts’ revolving door under center, but whose timing and decision-making was all wonky all night. When he wasn’t getting swallowed up by LA’s front, Foles was too often chucking it up to unwitting targets out of the gate, gifting the Chargers three picks (and almost more). Matt Ryan or Sam Ehlinger might not have been much better, but they couldn’t have been a whole lot worse. It’s a shame, too, because the offensive collapse wasted an otherwise stalwart night for Gus Bradley’s defense, which played fast and aggressive both up front and on the back end.

turning point

The Colts hung around, staying within 10 until deep into the game, despite too many turnovers with the ball in their hands. Given a shot to pull even closer, and perhaps even redeem their sloppy offensive night, they lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Chargers’ 12-yard line, kicking off the final quarter. But Nick Foles’ QB sneaked up short, with Drue Tranquill stuffing the play, returning the ball to Herbert and Co., who promptly went on a 12-play TD drive to seal the decision.

Play of the game

It would’ve been even cooler had Keenan Allen stayed in-bounds, but this laser from Herbert on a trick play helped LA extend its lead to 10-3 before halftime. It also confirmed that the Chargers QB has one of the best cannons in the game:

what’s next

The Chargers (9-6) will return home on New Year’s Day to host the Rams (5-10), who blasted the Broncos on Christmas Day, prompting Denver to fire coach Nathaniel Hackett. The Colts (4-10-1), meanwhile, will hit the road for a cross-conference matchup with the Giants (8-6-1), who fell to the Vikings on Saturday but are looking to secure one of the NFC’s final wild card spots.

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