INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP)On a day when Austin Ekeler accomplished a receiving milestone, it was his running that paved the way for the Los Angeles Chargers to keep rolling toward the postseason.
Ekeler rushed for 122 yards, scored two touchdowns and became the fifth running back with 100 receptions in a season as the Chargers cruised to a 31-10 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Rams in a matchup of SoFi Stadium co-tenants.
The playoff-bound Chargers improved to 10-6 and have won four straight games.
”I think we’re trending the right direction,” said Ekeler, who had the third 100-yard rushing game of his six-year career and second this season.
Ekeler, who has an NFL-leading 18 touchdowns (13 rushing, five receiving), also had a career-best 72-yard TD run midway through the second quarter to extend the Chargers’ lead to 14-3.
The running game had 192 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry, the second-best performance of the season in both categories. That allowed the offense to be balanced as the Chargers had 31 run and 31 pass plays.
”I think it’s great for our offense. That’s the balanced attack that we’re going for,” said Justin Herbert, who completed 21 of 28 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. ”We think highly of our offensive line and running backs. To see that today, we’re not surprised by the success at all.”
The balance even surprised the Rams. The Chargers began the day with the second-highest percentage of passing plays in the league.
”We came in and knew they were going to pass the ball, but they were able to run the ball, and we’ve just got to do better,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. ”Ekeler was pretty much the back we anticipated. They put it in his hands, got him to the perimeter, and he made plays.”
Ekeler scored on consecutive possessions in the second quarter to give the Chargers a 14-3 lead. After having a 10-yard run off left guard to give the Bolts a 7-3 advantage, Ekeler patiently waited for a seam to develop on the right side of the line before going 72 yards.
”We were running power. Everything was kicked out and was able to get through the corner,” Ekeler said. ”I got caught earlier in the year, and so that’s the only thing that was on my mind was, `All right, speed, speed, speed. Don’t get caught,’ and was able to get in there.”
Left guard Matt Feiler pulled to help create an opening while wide receiver Keenan Allen and tight end Donald Parham also laid key blocks before Ekeler broke into the clear.
”It was well blocked up front, but then you have to have your receivers blocking in the run game to get the splitter,” coach Brandon Staley said. ”It was a decisive and downhill run.”
It was the Rams’ 11th loss of the season, surpassing the 1999 Denver Broncos for most defeats by a defending Super Bowl champion.
The Rams played well in the first half and trailed 17-10 at halftime. But they crossed midfield only once on their five second-half possessions.
Los Angeles got to the Chargers’ 35-yard line on their first possession of the third quarter, but Baker Mayfield turned it over after a strip-sack by Kyle Van Noy.
”There was a very small margin for error, and then when it ended up getting out of hand, it got out of hand for us,” coach Sean McVay said.
Cam Akers had his second straight 100-yard game with 19 carries for 123 yards. Baker Mayfield was 11 of 19 for 132 yards.
The lone touchdown for the Rams (5-11) was a 23-yard run up the middle by Malcolm Brown to get them within 14-10 in the second quarter.
Ekeler reached 100 receptions with his first catch, an 8-yard pass from Herbert on the Chargers’ opening possession.
Ekeler joins former Chargers great LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Centers of Arizona, Matt Forte of Chicago and Christian McCaffrey as the only other players to achieve the feat. McCaffrey is the only running back with two 100-catch seasons.
The 103 receptions this season by Ekeler are the third-most in a season by a running back. McCaffey had 116 receptions in 2019 and 107 in ’18.
QUITE A CATCH
Mike Williams had seven receptions for 94 yards, including a one-handed, toe-tapping 18-yard grab along the left sideline late in the second quarter.
”Just react to the ball. I was just able to get the right hand to the ball and able to come down and get two feet in,” Williams said.
THIRD QUARTER BREAKTHROUGH
The Chargers found the end zone in the third quarter for the first time in 11 games when Herbert connected with Gerald Everett for an 8-yard touchdown to cap an 11-play, 75-yard drive to open the second half.
Herbert came into the game without a TD pass in two straight games for the first time in his three-year pro career.
Herbert’s 3-yard TD pass to Donald Parham early in the fourth quarter gave Herbert a combined 100 rushing and passing touchdowns. That ties him with Dan Marino for the most through the first three seasons of a career.
Rams: DB Nick Scott suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter but returned midway through the fourth.
Rams: Conclude their season at Seattle next Sunday.
Chargers: Wrap up the regular season at Denver next Sunday.
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