The first pass went to Keenan Allen for 17 yards and the first third down was converted by Mike Williams with a 15-yard catch.
The Chargers welcomed back their top two wide receivers last weekend against Kansas City and — even if only briefly — the offense looked potent again as they scored on four of their five first-half possessions.
“Keenan and Mike make what they make for a reason, right?” center Corey Linsley said. “They make $20 million or whatever [per season] because they’re unbelievable. They’re difference-makers. Then, them being difference-makers, opens up the whole offense.”
Williams aggravated his high-ankle sprain on his only reception, quickly ending his night against the Chiefs. He has missed the past two days of practice, casting serious doubt on his availability Sunday when the Chargers play at Arizona.
Allen, who has battled a hamstring problem suffered in the season opener, finished with five catches for 94 yards in a performance coach Brandon Staley said “exceeded my expectations, for sure.”
As they prepare to face the Cardinalsthe Chargers can count as a positive the fact Allen emerged healthy and projects to be a full-go.
“Sometimes it’s just a feeling of confidence having those two in the huddle,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “I think it kind of permeates the whole huddle when those guys are in there. It makes everyone feel better. … It makes a difference, for sure.”
The highlight for Allen came in the game’s final four minutes when, on third and 18, he sprinted down the right side and was on the other end of a 46-yard bomb from Justin Herbert.
The situation was so desperate that Lombardi called it a “third-and-California” play, a reference he brought with him from his previous job in New Orleans. “Just forever,” Lombardi explained. “Third and extra long.”
Allen’s catch helped set up a six-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to Joshua Palmer as the Chargers took a late lead that Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes stole back barely a minute later in a 30-27 Chiefs’ win.
“The odds are stacked against you,” Herbert said, noting the down and distance. “But when you have a guy like Keenan, you have to give him a chance. Just put the ball up there, knowing that he is going to go fight for it. He made an incredible play on it.”
In their first 29 games together entering this season, Herbert targeted Allen 296 times. That’s an average of 10.2 per game. Twice, Herbert targeted him 19 times, matching Allen’s career high.
So, when Allen was injured in Week 1 and didn’t return at anything close to 100% until Week 11, it’s understandable that Herbert and the offense looked out of sorts for stretches.
“To have [No.] 13 back out there, he just adds something special,” Herbert said after the Kansas City game. “We know what a competitor he is and the fighter that he is. He has put in the work. It’s just good to see him back out there.”
The Chargers likely will need more from Allen against Arizona in a game in which they’re favored, a game that carries significant weight in their pursuit for a postseason berth.
Lombardi talked Thursday about the “trust factor” that exists between Herbert and Allen, explaining that their numerous practice reps together have forged a shared confidence.
If Williams is unavailable Sunday, that confidence figures to become an even more important bond.
Cornerback Bryce Callahan (groin) returned to practice in a limited capacity after missing Wednesday. The Chargers added cornerback Michael Davis (knee) to their injury report. He also was limited.
Punter JK Scott (quadriceps) was limited for the second consecutive day. The Chargers worked out four punters Thursday as a precaution if Scott can’t play Sunday.