CARSON, Calif. — Austin Ekeler‘s 44-yard touchdown catch on Sunday almost died as a fumble at midfield, with Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers attempting to control a high snap from center Mike Pouncey.
“It was pretty close,” Rivers said. “It was another bobble away from me just getting down.”
Instead, Rivers re-gained control of the ball as the Oakland Raiders dialed up a five-man pressure. Rivers kept his cool and delivered a strike to Ekeler, running a flare route out of the backfield.
Ekeler did the rest of from there, making three Raiders’ defenders miss on his way to a 44-yard score, the longest touchdown reception of his two-year NFL career.
The play was the start of 23 unanswered points as the Chargers seized control of the game, defeating the Raiders 26-10.
However, with the scored tied at 3 and a little more than four minutes left in the first half, the game was very much in the balance before Ekeler’s heroics.
The Chargers had the ball, first-and-10 at Oakland’s 44-yard line. Rivers had his group lined up in a trips open set, with Gates all alone to the left of Rivers before he received the shotgun snap.
“It was my fault,” Pouncey said about the snap. “I was a little high on the snap and it was too hot, but Phil made a hell of a play stopping it, grabbing it and throwing a touchdown pass.”
“It was a free release for me, so if they blitz I’m not blocking,” Ekeler said. “The guy I was supposed to block came, so I kind of knew he was going to throw it to me.”
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Once he made the catch, Ekeler still had to figure out a path to the end zone.
Ekeler accomplished that by shaking loose from linebacker Tahir Whitehead and cornerback Daryl Worley along the sideline by diving back inside, with both defenders overrunning the play. Ekeler then zoomed past safety Marcus Gilchrist as receiver Keenan Allen sealed off his former teammate.
“He got them both,” Rivers said about Ekeler. “He’s got some juice now. He can really run. I think he’s one of those where you don’t realize how fast he’s running until you have to chase him — which I never have — but I’ve seen a lot of guys do it. That was impressive.”
Added Ekeler: “You just work on your moves in open space. That’s how you make your money in this league as a running back out on the field. That’s where I feel like I excel and I’m going to keep doing that, winning my one-on-ones.”
Rivers said the overall effort by all the players on the field is representative of how the Chargers are playing, and the play was a big momentum swing in the game.
“I think so because we weren’t really playing that great on offense,” Rivers said. “We were playing OK. The first drive, it was better — we didn’t go three-and-out and we finished with three points — but we weren’t playing great. We had some third downs where we weren’t great, and then that kind of sparked the whole deal.”