CARSON, CA-In a game full of tremendous offensive plays between the Los Angeles Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers, the Sunday afternoon matinee contest at StubHub Center would be decided from the defensive side of the ball. Big plays can turn a game.
There were plenty of them being made between both the Chargers and the 49ers. It was the Chargers making the plays that counted the most down the stretch in their 29-27 victory at home.
“I thought our defense stepped up when we really needed them to,” said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. “They created some turnovers, got some pressure on the quarterback and just slowed the 49ers down. Their offense is pretty explosive. They have some players and some wide receivers, one of the best backs in the league — two of the better backs in the league — and I knew that [49ers QB] C.J. Beathard would come in and move the sticks because I watched him last year and this young man plays with his legs. They want more quarterback driven runs, but that’s hard for a defense to focus all on that. It was a great effort by them, but our team stepped up and executed.”
Unlike their 35-23 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams where they allowed their crosstown rivals to punt the football just one time, the Chargers’ defensive unit more than made its share of plays to enable Los Angeles to enjoy its second win of the season.
There was Trevor Williams streaking down the sideline for an 86-yard jaunt after picking off a deflected pass with the 49ers looking like they would add to their point total in the third quarter after a long drive.
“Yeah, it was a long drive,” Williams said about his interception. “I think we had just had a penalty and I just kept trying to encourage the guys that we were about to get a turnover — just [spoke] it into existence. Once the play presented itself, I tried to take advantage of it.”
Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward then came up with a momentous play of his own early in the fourth quarter when he laid down the thunder on 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard, knocking the breath out of the San Francisco signal-caller with a highlight-reel hit.
“I just tried to step up,” Hayward said. ” People say that I’m a cover guy, which I am. I prefer to just cover, but you got to put your hat on if it comes down to that moment. It came down to that moment and I was able to make a good play. ”
Hayward’s play was critical because it came at the 12:43 mark of the quarter and at a time when the 49ers were driving the football down the field with success. In scoring territory, Beathard escaped a would-be sack and decided to gallop for extra yards down the field. Beathard’s mistake was not sliding to the ground.
As it was, Beathard tried to play hero ball, stayed upright and got lit up like ornaments on a Christmas tree courtesy of Hayward’s right shoulder. Beathard was briefly taken out of the ballgame, but the damage had been done. Instead of scoring a potential touchdown, the 49ers wound up settling for a field goal and Beathard ended up not completing another pass for the rest of the game.
Derwin James, the Chargers outstanding rookie safety, saw to it that Beathard didn’t complete that task with his intimidating style of play. James stayed in the 49ers’ backfield all afternoon, harassing Beathard consistently on blitz packages. On a couple of occasions, James came within milliseconds of sacking Beathard, but got no juice for his efforts.
Finally, with the game on the line, with the Chargers barely holding on to their two-point lead, James came through with the play of day when he bum-rushed Beathard with an outside blitz, violently jarring the ball from the quarterback’s right hand and out into the waiting and open palms of teammate Isaac Rochell, who was given credit for an interception on the play. And that was a wrap.
“Coach always says let’s play a four-quarter game,” James said. “He wants to see us play a complete game and, I feel like, today we played a complete game as a team. We’re going to look at the film, correct the mistakes, move on and get ready for Oakland.”
The 49ers managed to produce several highlight plays of their own right out of the gate. The Chargers were forced to stare the down the barrel of a deep hole to dig from under before seats got warm enough for fans to check out their nonconference game against the 49ers.
A slew of big plays from San Francisco put the Chargers in the hole. Fortunately for the Chargers, it’s not how you start, but it’s how you finish. For the first few minutes against the 49ers, big plays seemed to be on the visitors’ side from up North as they raced out to a quick 14-0 lead.
A 32-yard pick six by Antone Exum Jr. on the Chargers first offensive series of the game and a two-yard touchdown pass from Beathard to Kendrick Bourne, and just like that the 49ers looked like they might blow by the hometown Chargers. This was not a good look for Anthony Lynn’s team. But thank goodness football is played and won after four quarters of action and not fully determined by the opening act.
The Chargers woke up after San Francisco’s second score to come back with a surge of their own thanks to a caveat of big plays they were able to produce. And they came with a bit of urgency because the Chargers did not want to face AFC West Division opponent Oakland with three losses in their first four games of the season.
Philip Rivers and his receivers started clicking after San Francisco’s two-score lead, driving the Chargers 75 yards in seven plays to paydirt, connecting with tight end Antonio Gates with a 5-yard touchdown pass. Another touchdown pass by Rivers, this one a 22-yard scoring toss to running back Austin Ekeler helped cut the 49ers’ lead to three points early in the second quarter.
On a side note, Rivers went by John Elway for the No. 8 spot all-time in passing yards after passing for 250 yards and three touchdowns.