INGLEWOOD, Calif -- Believe it or not, the Los Angeles Chargers appear to be in the driver's seat for the AFC West title. They beat the defending division and AFC champs Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday on the road and stunned the previously unbeaten Las Vegas Raiders 28-14 on Monday night at SoFi Stadium.
It could happen, as the Chargers (3-1) took a 21-0 halftime lead and held off the Raiders' (3-1) second-half charge.
The Chargers almost learned a lesson the hard way, though: Never depend solely on your defense, no matter how well it's playing, and never underestimate the Raiders in the second half.
The Raiders scored 14 points in the third quarter and drove into Chargers territory before missing a 52-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. But that's when the Chargers showed potential championship mettle.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who arguably has worked his way into the MVP conversation, drove his team 58 yards on 10 plays for what would be the game-clinching touchdown, an 11-yard touchdown run by Austin Ekeler with 5:20 left. Herbert finished 25-of-38 for 222 yards and three first-half touchdown passes.
Herbert completed his 500th pass in his 19th start, becoming the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to reach that mark before his 20th start. Austin Ekeler rushed for a career-high 117 yards and scored twice.
Los Angeles is 3-1 for the first time since 2014 and part of a three-way tie atop the AFC West with Las Vegas and Denver. The Raiders' loss means the Arizona Cardinals are the NFL's lone undefeated team after four weeks.
“We stayed patient, I thought we had a good mix of the run and pass. Justin was extremely patient and Austin came alive tonight,” Chargers first-year coach Brandon Staley said.
The Chargers dominated the first half on defense, allowing the Raiders 51 yards of offense. But you had to know they'd come roaring back. That's what the Raiders do. They were down to Baltimore and Miami 14-0 and came back to win both games.
Quarterback Derek Carr had a chance with 3:14 remaining, which was aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Joey Bosa. But then safety Derwin James snagged an interception and sealed another big win for the Chargers.
Key play of the game: The Chargers were faced with fourth-and-2 at the 50 with 9:24 left in the game holding on to a 7-point lead. They decided to go for it. Herbert launched a 13-yard pass to Jared Cook, who jumped over former Charger Denzel Perryman to haul it in. Cook's play eventually led to Ekeler's game-sealing touchdown and stopped the Raiders' comeback attempt.
Key stats: The Raiders tried to limit Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but the Chargers tight ends stepped up in their place. Cook had six receptions for 70 yards and a first-half touchdown, Donald Parham Jr. had the Chargers' first score of the game and Stephen Anderson had one big-time reception for 34 yards that helped set up another first-half score.