October 19, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Mike Williams intercepts job as Chargers’ Hail Mary defender

The alignment is known as defensive victory formation.

On Sunday, that meant Mike Williams was positioned prominently in the middle of last-prayer territory.

After Denver quarterback Drew Lock heaved the ball from near midfield toward the goal line, Williams, who normally plays wide receiver for the Chargers, leaped to secure an interception and a victory.

The last-play pickoff sealed a 19-16 win at SoFi Stadium and was the second interception for a Chargers receiver in four seasons.

In December of 2017, Keenan Allen picked off Bryce Petty of the New York Jets under similar Hail Mary conditions, that one occurring at the end of the first half.

Williams took over the role of victory formation center fielder Sunday with Allen out because of a hamstring injury.

“I didn’t know Mike Will was back there,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “Keenan’s usually back there. … When I saw him fly through the air to grab it, I was just like, ‘Damn.’ Glad we got him out there.”

Williams has 145 receptions in four NFL seasons, but every one of those has been on a ball thrown by a teammate. This was his first career catch of a pass that came from the opposition.

He said his most recent interception had come in high school in South Carolina, where he grew up playing both offense and defense — including safety.

At 6 feet 4, Williams has established a reputation for being able to rise above defenders in 50/50-type situations to make catches. His physical tools along with the belief that every ball in the air belongs to him have served Williams well.

Last season, the Chargers regularly fired such deep balls in his direction. Williams finished with 1,001 yards on only 49 receptions, leading the NFL with a per-catch average of 20.4 yards.

“I was in the game with other receivers at that point,” Williams said. “So they got the same mindset that I have. … I was just trying to make sure I got it at its highest point.”

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert scrambles out of the pocket against the Denver Broncos. With the scored tied, Herbert led the Chargers on a game-winning drive in the waning seconds.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Top rookies

Justin Herbert remains the betting favorite over Minnesota wide receiver Justin Jefferson to be the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.

Before the season began, Herbert’s odds of winning were worse than the odds of D’Andre Swift, Henry Ruggs III and Tua Tagovailoa, among others. At that point, Herbert was the backup to Tyrod Taylor and there was no guarantee that he would play in 2020.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn admitted Monday that, had there been the normal schedule of four exhibition games, the team’s quarterbacking situation might have been impacted.

“Maybe if we had a preseason and saw him play and compete for the job, maybe it would have been different,” Lynn said. “I don’t know. Tyrod Taylor was the guy we were most comfortable with.”

As with many NFL teams, the Chargers had only one extended scrimmage after the preseason was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coaches were forced to make evaluations based mostly on practice performance. While saying Herbert “did fine,” Lynn also said the rookie “didn’t do some of the things you’ve seen in the games.”

Herbert was pressed into starting in Week 2 after Taylor suffered a punctured lung in a pregame accident involving a member of the Chargers’ medical staff. Herbert shined immediately and played too well in the ensuing weeks to be removed as the starter.

Not close enough

Lynn and the Chargers were hounded throughout much of the season because of an inability to win close games. At one point, the team had lost seven one-possession decisions in a row.

Now, the Chargers have won their last four one-score games, a streak that began against the Jets on Nov. 22. By that point, they were too buried in the AFC to save their season.

“It’s frustrating,” Jones said. “But I don’t ever look at anything like I’m disappointed. … I just learn from each situation, learn from the season. Take what we learn into next year and really try to make it happen.”

On Sunday, the Chargers will face a Kansas City team that already has clinched the AFC’s top playoff seed.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday that some of his regulars won’t play against the Chargers as a result. He said backup quarterback Chad Henne will play but didn’t specify whether that meant Patrick Mahomes won’t play.

Etc.

Lynn said it will be “a challenge” for safety Rayshawn Jenkins (ankle), cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (foot) to play Sunday, an indication all three will miss the game. … The Chargers are 0-5 this season against teams that currently have winning records and 6-4 against teams with losing records. Entering Monday, the teams they had lost to were 79-54 and the teams they had beaten 23-66-1. … With their three-game winning streak, the Chargers have dropped to picking 12th overall in the 2021 NFL draft.