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Chargers move past Colts to clinch top playoff spot in 18

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INDIANAPOLIS– Los Angeles Chargers Security Derwin James Jr. pumped his fist while bouncing around in a Santa hat, as head coach Brandon Staley put his arm around owner Dean Spanos and presented him with a game ball.

“I’ve been hoping to give him a ball since I got here,” Staley shouted. “He was patient. He invested himself in this team. He brought us all together…game ball, playoff appearance – Dean Spanos.”

Spanos, Staley and the Bolts had plenty to celebrate in the visitors locker room at Lucas Oil Field after dismantling the underdogs Indianapolis Colts 20-3 Monday evening.

For the first time since 2018, the Chargers will return to the playoffs, having clinched a playoff berth after improving to 9-6, with two games remaining in the regular season.

“I’m not good at giving speeches, but I’m so proud of you all,” Spanos said as the players shouted. “I know we still have a long way to go, but we’re off to a good start right now, so let’s do it.”

The Chargers entered Week 16 with a straight path to the playoffs after jumping into the No. 6 seed with a Dec. 18 visit win. Tennessee Titans. However, Los Angeles’ playoff spot came sooner than expected after the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders each fell in their matches over the weekend.

“I’ve been here long enough to know when it happens it’s a great feeling,” the 10th-year Chargers veteran said. Keenan Allen amidst bumping music and dancing teammates. “We talk about it all the time: Control what you can control. And this week we got to manage our own destiny and we did.”

Said Sebastien Joseph-Daywho won a Super Bowl last season with the Rams: “It’s unbelievable and it’s indescribable… But it’s not over. We have two games left and we have to keep going.”

It will be the first playoff appearance for Staley and Herbert, the third-year signalman who completed 24 of 31 passes for 235 yards with one interception Monday night.

“It will be a lot of fun,” Herbert said. “Just excited to be in this atmosphere and to have this opportunity and to keep playing football.”

“It’s just the beginning. It’s not our end goal,” said Staley, who narrowly missed the playoffs in his first season as a coach after losing to the Raiders in the week 18 – when a draw or a win would have sent the Bolts to the playoffs. “We have two more games against some really good teams and we need to look to play our best football so that we can not only get into the playoffs, but have a run for a Super Bowl championship, which is our goal.”

At the start of the season, the Bolts were among the favorites not only to earn a trip to the playoffs, but also to make a deep run, having strengthened their defense.

Successful business with chicago bears brought pass-rusher Khalil Mac in LA, and the Bolts signed the cornerback JC Jackson to a five-year, $82.5 million deal in free agency while bolstering their defensive line with austin johnson and Joseph-Day.

However, the Chargers got off to a 5-5 start, as several key players suffered injuries.

Herbert played several weeks through the fractured rib cartilage he suffered in Week 2 and was without wide receivers Allen and mike williams, who treated a sprained hamstring and sprained ankle, respectively, for a significant amount of time. Allen and Williams didn’t play a full game together until Week 14. The offensive line also lost left tackle Rashawn Slater to injured reserve after Week 3.

On defense, the Bolts lost the rusher Joey Bosa, Jackson and Johnson to injured reserve. Bosa could still return, but the unit is otherwise on his own.

“So many people got their hands on it, and that’s the beautiful thing,” Joseph-Day said, after acknowledging the rookie kicker Cameron Dickerwho produced two winning baskets this season, and return specialist DeAndré Carter. “A lot of guys have really stepped up, and I think that’s where a lot of the growth is coming from.”

Chargers held Nick Foles to 17 of 29 passes for 143 yards with three interceptions while firing the Indianapolis quarterback seven times. The Colts were 0 for 10 on third down.

“We have the composition to withstand the kind of season we’ve had. I think we wouldn’t be here without the tenacity of our football team, the composition of our football team,” Staley said. “For too long people have talked about the talent of this football team and the organization and that’s ultimately not what gets you where you want to go. You have to prove your tenacity, and that’s what what we have proven so far this year is that we have a football team that is mentally and physically strong enough to be where we are right now.”

Chargers take on Los Angeles Rams Sunday in what will be a home game for the Bolts, and wrap up the regular season in Denver in Week 18.

Despite clinching his first career playoff spot, Herbert seemed adamant that there was plenty of room for improvement going forward.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet,” Herbert said. “I think the defense has done an incredible job the last few weeks. I think offensively we can be better. We can limit turnovers, and that starts with me.”