With their final five games against clubs with winning records, the Chargers absolutely had to have a win Sunday vs. St. Louis.
And they got it.
Overcoming several big mistakes, getting a lift from multiple Rams penalties and making a game-saving interception in the final minute, the Chargers held on for a 27-24 win in San Diego.
With the victory, the Chargers move to 7-4, which places them one game behind Denver in the AFC West. San Diego is also one of four 7-4 teams vying for two wild-card spots, with Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cleveland the others.
The Rams (4-7) gave the Chargers all they could handle, and they looked likely to take the lead or send the game into overtime in the final minute. However, quarterback Shaun Hill was picked by Chargers safety Marcus Gilchrist in the endzone, and San Diego ran out the clock.
This was a roller-coaster game for both clubs. Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins set the tone early, picking off Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and taking it back for a 99-yard second-quarter TD to give St. Louis a 10-3 lead.
But the Rams missed a couple of chances to add to their edge in the first half. A penalty nullified a long Kenny Britt TD catch, and the Rams also had a field goal blocked.
Those squandered opportunities loomed large as the Chargers scored two TDs in a 21-second span in the third quarter. First, tailback Ryan Mathews — again bothered by a shoulder ailment — rushed for a 32-yard TD about five minutes into the period. Then, the Chargers got a big play from the defense, with Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget causing Hill to fumble and Andrew Gachkar taking it in for a 13-yard score.
Suddenly, the Chargers had a 20-10 lead. But San Diego couldn’t put away St. Louis. A fumbled punt set up the Rams’ second TD of the game, a six-yard run by Tavon Austin that cut the lead to 20-17. On their next drive, the Chargers would then turn the ball over deep in Rams territory, with Jenkins causing Keenan Allen to fumble.
But as the fourth quarter began, the Chargers were in the midst of one of their classic clock-chewing drives, and when Rivers hit Allen for a 29-yard TD with 8:09 left, the Rams found themselves down 27-17.
The Rams’ subsequent drive looked set to be a three-and-out, but St. Louis, backed up on its 26 and facing a 4th-and-4, faked the punt, with punter Johnny Hekker hitting Stedman Bailey for 19 yards. The Rams would capitalize, with Hill connecting with Bailey for a seven-yard score with 2:04 left.
The Rams would then hold on defense, and on the ensuing punt, Austin would break a 73-yard return down to the San Diego 5. However, a questionable holding call would take that off the board.
Still, the Rams would again get off the mat, and when Hill hit Britt for 27 yards down to the San Diego 6 with about a minute left, the Chargers had their backs against the wall. But Gilchrist would then make a potentially season-saving play for San Diego.
Rivers completed 29-of-35 passes for 291 yards with the touchdown and the pick, with Allen hauling in six passes for 104 yards and a TD. Hill was just 18-of-35 passing for 194 yards with the scoring pass and two interceptions.
Mathews racked up 105 yards rushing on 12 carries for San Diego, which plays at Baltimore next Sunday. The Rams host 1-10 Oakland.