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 their top two wide receivers against Kansas City last weekend and — albeit briefly — the offense looked strong again as they scored on four of their five first-half possessions.
“Keenan and Mike do what they do for a reason, right?” center Corey Linsley said. “They make $20 million or whatever [per season] because they are incredible. You make the difference. Then, as they make distinctions, the whole offensive opens up.”
Williams aggravated his ankle sprain on his only reception and quickly ended his night against the Chiefs. He has missed the last two days of practice and has expressed serious doubts about his availability on Sunday when the Chargers play in Arizona.
Allen, who struggled with a hamstring problem in the season opener, finished the game with five catches for 94 yards in a performance that coach Brandon Staley said, “My expectations were certainly exceeded.”
As they prepare to face the Cardinals, the Chargers can take a positive note that Allen has emerged healthy and plans to come in full force.
“Sometimes it’s just a sense of confidence to have those two around,” said offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. “I think it kind of permeates the whole crowd when these guys are in there. This makes everyone feel more comfortable. … It sure makes a difference.”
The highlight for Allen came in the final four minutes of the game when he sprinted down the right side in third and 18 and was on the other end of a 46-yard bomb from Justin Herbert.
The situation was so desperate that Lombardi dubbed it a “third-and-California” play, a reference he brought back from his previous job in New Orleans. “Just forever,” Lombardi explained. “Third and extra long.”
Allen’s catch helped set up a 6-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 chances are bad,” said Herbert, noting the descent and the distance. “But when you have a guy like Keenan, you have to give him a chance. Just put the ball there and know he’s going to fight for it. He made an incredible game out of it.”
In their first 29 games together this season, Herbert had 296 shots at Allen. That’s an average of 10.2 per game. Twice Herbert has targeted him 19 times, which is Allen’s career high.
With Allen injured in Week 1 and not recovering anywhere near 100% by Week 11, it’s understandable that Herbert and the offense were looking for stretches out of line.
“To have [No.] 13 out there, he just adds something special,” Herbert said after the game in Kansas City. “We know what a competitor he is and the fighter he is. He got to work. It’s just good to see him out there again.”
The Chargers will likely need more of Allen against Arizona in a game where they are favored, a game that carries significant weight in their quest for a postseason berth.
Lombardi spoke Thursday about the “trust factor” that exists between Herbert and Allen, explaining that their numerous practice reps have built a mutual trust together.
With Williams unavailable on Sunday, that trust becomes an even more important bond.
Cornerback Bryce Callahan (groin) returned to practice on a limited basis after his absence Wednesday. The Chargers added cornerback Michael Davis (knee) to their injury report. He too was restricted.
Punter JK Scott (quads) was restricted for the second straight day. The Chargers drafted four punters Thursday as a precaution in case Scott is unable to play Sunday.