Andre Roberts is one of the NFL’s top ghosts, an 11-year veteran who won All-Pro honors with the New York Jets in 2018 and Pro Bowl honors with the Buffalo Bills in 2019 and 2020.
But for Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, Roberts was an outsider until he arrived at the team’s training center in Costa Mesa in late October, with the Chargers throwing a lifeline to the 33-year-old. after Roberts was cut off by the Houston Texans.
“I didn’t even know the name of this man, I’m not going to lie,” Ekeler said after the Chargers’ 34-13 win over the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. “I didn’t know who Andre Roberts was.”
Ekeler is doing it now, and if the rest of the league needs a reminder, Roberts showed just how dangerous he can be with two high-impact returns that helped the Chargers return to the playoff photo of the AFC.
Roberts returned the 47-yard opening kickoff, a jerk the Chargers turned into a quick, seven-play, 55-yard strike that Ekeler capped with a three-yard touchdown run – his 18th scoring the season – for a 7-0 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Roberts kicked off into the end zone and sent it back for 101 yards for a touchdown, the fourth longest comeback in franchise history, to give the Chargers a lead 27-6.
“Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!” Ekeler said when asked about Roberts’ score. “I’ve never seen one in my five years here so it was amazing to see. …
“Dre was an amazing pickup by our GM. Finding him was definitely a gem, and he’s been showing it since he’s been here. You know I’d be surprised if they kicked the rest of him again. of the season.
Roberts showed his big-game potential in Week 15 when he returned the opening kickoff against the Kansas City Chiefs for 75 yards.
His third career kickoff return for a touchdown began when he fielded Brandon McManus’ kick from one meter deep. Roberts ran to the right side and cut to the middle as he received key blocks from Chris Rumph and Jalen Guyton.
Roberts broke free near midfield and easily beat McManus in the end zone, glancing at the stadium video board twice before crossing the goal line, giving him four kick returns. ‘sending 45 or more yards this season and the Chargers their first goal. kick off from Micheal Spurlock’s 99 yards in 2012.
“This guy made an impact beyond production on the field,” said Chargers coach Brandon Staley, who awarded Roberts a match ball. “He was able to integrate directly into our culture, our way of doing things and he fits in perfectly. “
Three other takeaways from Sunday’s victory:
Philly (not so) special: The Broncos tried a gimmicky game in the fourth and goal from the two-yard line late in the second quarter. It didn’t go well, thanks to the efforts of Chargers safety Nasir Adderley and onboard rusher Joey Bosa.
Denver quarterback Drew Lock passed the baton to running back Mike Boone, who ran to the left before returning the ball to receiver Kendall Hinton.
Hinton suffered a hard blow from Adderley as he threw a wide open lock, the impact producing a wobbler that gave Bosa enough time to close and smash the lock within a yard of touchdown, preserving a lead of 10-0.
“How do you play [near the goal line] says a lot about how competitive your team is, and I felt like our guys really sold out there, ”said Staley.
“When you’re on the goal line, with a stickless cover, the guy you ignore is the quarterback, and we have to do a better job of accounting for this guy. But sometimes when you play the game like Nas, Joey, and the other nine guys, it can make up for any kind of coverage error.
Fingers in the nose: As explosive and versatile as Ekeler is, it was the 5-foot-10, 200-pound poise and agility that scored a 40-yard reception early in the third quarter, the culmination of a 14-footer practice. plays and 78 yards that ended with Dustin Hopkins’ 23-yard field goal.
In third and seven of the Chargers’ 20, Ekeler caught a control pass in the left flat and was nearly knocked down by Broncos safety Justin Simmons on 25.
Ekeler’s right knee came a few inches from the grass, but he strengthened with his right hand, stayed upright and ran another 35 yards. Denver disputed the appeal, which was upheld.
“It’s one of the exercises that we do every two weeks,” Ekeler said. “It’s called ‘post-hand’, where you run with the ball, boom, you come down and you stand. So bring the drill to the field right there.
Change of heart: Staley toned down his usually daring approach to fourth down on Sunday, going for a 19-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead instead of going into the fourth and scoring on the yard line early in the second quarter.
Two weeks ago, in a 34-28 overtime loss to Kansas City, Staley left a possible nine points on the field when the Chargers failed their fourth down instead of scoring field goals. .
“I just felt like it was going to be a possession game, and I wanted to make sure we came away with points and forced them to score twice, three times, to beat us,” Staley said. . “I felt like our defense was playing at a very high level, and I didn’t want to be empty there.”