Chargers-Colts score, takeaways: Justin Herbert shines, Nick Foles falters, Los Angeles clinches playoff spot

Everything was setting up for the Chargers to stumble themselves again. Los Angeles held a one-touchdown lead in Week 16’s prime-time finale with a chance to clinch a playoff spot against the reeling Colts on Monday night. Star safety Derwin James was ejected early for an illegal tackle. And quarterback Justin Herbert fumbled the ball to advance Indianapolis to the final quarter. It doesn’t matter. Because Nick Foles’ debut as the Colts’ latest fill-in QB went about as poorly as possible. Treated up front and getting enough Herbert production, Brandon Staley’s AFC West rival walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium with a 20-3 win and, more importantly, a 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 notes from Monday night’s Chargers win:

Why the Chargers won

They have someone who can bowl. The Chargers earned a “W” on a night that might have ruined LA’s chance at an Indy playoff berth for playing a third-string QB on Hero Ball behind a shoddy O-line from the first snap because their own signal caller, Justin Herbert, delivered enough downfield strikes. Austin Egeler was vital again, but despite not being on the ground consistently, it was Herbert’s laser that saved the day, feeding Keenan Allen (11 catches, 104 yards) and knocking on LA’s door. Brandon Staley’s defense was key, chasing Nick Foles and playing opportunistic ball in the second quarter even after star safety Derwin James was sacked in the first half. Six different players recorded a sack by the end of the night, while the corner duo of Asante Samuel Jr. and Michael Davis were on their way.

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Why the Colts lost

The offensive line was iffy once again, surrendering seven sacks and nine QB hits. But unfortunately nothing ruined them more than Nick Foles, whose big-game mentality was a welcome idea for the Colts’ revolving door under center, but his timing and decision-making were a mess all night. When he wasn’t swallowed up by L.A.’s front, Foles often went for targets out of the gate without realizing it, gifting the Chargers with three picks (and more). Matt Ryan or Sam Ehlinger might not have been much better, but they couldn’t have been much worse. It’s a shame, too, because the offensive slump squandered a strong night for Gus Bradley’s defense, which played fast and aggressive back and forth.

turning point

The Colts hung around, staying within 10 deep in the game, despite too many turnovers with the ball in their hands. Given a shot to pull even closer, and perhaps redeem their poor offensive night, they rallied to go fourth-and-1 from the Chargers’ 12-yard line to open the final quarter. But Nick Foles’ QB sneak came up short, Drew Tranquil forced the play and returned the ball to Herbert and Co., who promptly went on a 12-play TD drive to seal the end.

Game of the game

It would have been even cooler if Keenan Allen had been in range, but this laser from Herbert helped LA extend its lead to 10-3 before the break with a trick play. It also confirmed that the Chargers QB has one of the best cannons in the game:

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What’s next

The Chargers (9-6) return home on New Year’s Day and the Rams (5-10) blow out the Broncos on Christmas Day, prompting the firing of Denver 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 look to secure one of the NFC finals. Wild card points.

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