May 23, 2024

The Chargers opened a 17-point halftime lead, scored on their first five possessions and shut out Chicago in the third quarter.

All of which led to the most unlikely of conclusions Sunday night at SoFi Stadium:

A fourth quarter thoroughly lacking in drama.

“If you get a team in that position,” edge rusher Joey Bosa said, “it’s important to keep it going and not let them work their way back because, obviously, we’ve done that a few times.”

This time, the Chargers scored the first 17 points and never allowed their lead to fall below double digits as they cruised to a 30-13 victory over the Bears.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak, improved the Chargers to 3-4 and kept alive all the possibilities with which they began this season before fortunes slid sideways.

Now, the Chargers will head to New York for another prime-time matchup Monday night against the Jets with the chance to rediscover .500.

While that might not sound like a lot, it sounds better than the audible thud a loss Sunday would have brought.

“We’ve been in search of a game like this,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I felt like our guys really earned it.”

Coming off one of the least productive stretches of his young career, Justin Herbert opened by completing his first 15 pass attempts before finishing 31 of 40 for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

His quarterback rating of 122.7 was his second-best of the season as he connected for touchdowns with three teammates and positions: running back Austin Ekeler, wide receiver Simi Fehoko and tight end Donald Parham Jr.

“I just saw really good rhythm and timing,” Staley said. “I thought he was decisive. When he’s playing like that, he’s going to have numbers like that. … Big-time performance from him tonight.”

The Chargers’ first five series went touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown and field goal, helping them stretch their lead to 30-7 after three mostly dominant quarters.

The Chargers' Trey Pipkins III (79) celebrates a 39-yard touchdown reception by Austin Ekeler (30) against the Bears.

The Chargers’ Trey Pipkins III (79) celebrates the 39-yard touchdown reception by Austin Ekeler (30) against the Bears.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The performance was ignited by Ekeler, who capped the first drive by turning a short pass into a 39-yard touchdown that was as well executed as it was well blocked.

The score was just Ekeler’s second of the season and first since Week 1, after which he missed three games because of a high-ankle sprain. Ekeler led the NFL in touchdowns over the previous two seasons.

“Been a long time,” Ekeler said. “That definitely feels good. Getting in the end zone is something I’ve built up as a reputation. Doesn’t always happen. It’s not easy to score in this league. It was really good to be back.”

Staley said involving Ekeler, particularly in the passing game, was “a big point of emphasis” entering Sunday. A week ago in a loss at Kansas City, Ekeler was targeted only two times and finished with one catch for one yard.

Against the Bears, he had seven catches on eight targets and totaled a game-high 94 yards. Ekeler also carried 15 times for 29 yards.

“He’s such a complete player,” Staley said. “That’s when he’s most dangerous, when he’s running the football, catching the football. Getting him going in the screen game I thought was really big.”

The offense’s most significant drive came right before halftime, after Chicago ate up nearly half of the second quarter with a 14-play, 75-yard series that resulted in a touchdown to make it 17-7.

Along the way, the Bears and rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent converted two third-and-eights and a third-and-six before scoring on third-and-four with 1:47 left in the second quarter.

Staley said that the possession and the way Chicago continually extended it “definitely … took some air out of us.” But that’s when Herbert and the Chargers’ offense answered.

Moving 75 yards in nine plays, Herbert hit Parham at the Bears’ five-yard line, and the 6-foot-8, 237-pound tight end fought through three defenders to reach the end zone with four seconds remaining.

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. (89) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears.

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. (89) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“This was a lot closer to that 2021 version of Donald Parham, who’s a difference maker,” Staley said. “You saw the run after catch. He did that all of 2021. … He’s a weapon out there.”

Defensively, the Chargers repeatedly stymied Chicago, which entered fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game. The Bears finished with 73 yards on the ground, their second-worst output of the season.

Bosa had the game’s only sack — ending Chicago’s opening drive — and Ja’Sir Taylor and Derwin James Jr. both had interceptions. In the second half, the Chargers twice stopped the Bears on fourth down.

“The NFL is about rhythm,” James said. “This is a great feeling for our team to feel. This is what we can do when we play a complete game. We gotta just build from this.”

A season on the edge of crumbling is still in need of some rebuilding. But, at least for one night, the often-laborious Chargers made it easy on themselves.

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