The Chargers opened the season Sunday with a 24-19 win over Las Vegas at SoFi Stadium.
Justin Herbert and Khalil Mack starred on a day where the Chargers never trailed and produced just three turnovers in the game.
Here’s what else stood out:
The new chargers are contributing
Herbert’s touchdown passes went to newcomers Zander Horvath, DeAndre Carter and Gerald Everett. Horvath was a seventh-round pick in April, and Carter and Everett were both free agent signings.
Herbert threw to Horvath down the left sideline for a one-yard score early in the second quarter. The rookie fullback would be an unlikely pick before the game to be on the other end of Herbert’s first scoring drive of the season.
“I’m sure a lot of people didn’t expect that,” Horvath said. “Great game. I just executed, where I did my job, doing what I had to do.”
Everett’s touchdown was much more impressive. After a play-action fake, Herbert rolled to his left as two Raiders defenders closed. Without pausing, he shot the ball over Everett’s back shoulder.
The veteran tight end made the catch just inside the five-yard line and then forced his way past Las Vegas safety Roderic Teamer, who is a former Charger, and into the end zone.
“It was a simple game really,” Everett said. “That was all Justin. I was just trying to be there for the guy. … The matchup, keeping his eyes down, positioning the ball, going through his reads. I looked up and the ball was in the air.”
Carter filled Allen’s shoes
Carter finished the game with three catches for 64 yards, with his touchdown coming on a 23-yarder in the final minute of the first half.
It came after Keenan Allen was lost to a hamstring injury late in the second quarter.
“As soon as I got out, Dre came in to make plays,” Allen said. “That’s what you like to see when you go out. The attack did not stop at all. Things went on. They kept things moving.”
Carter signed in the offseason to be the Chargers’ primary punt returner, something he was unable to show on Sunday. He caught a kick and there was no return.
Defensive reunification is a big help
The Chargers rebuilt their defense in the offseason by adding several players who have had success playing for coach Brandon Staley in the past, including Mack, slot cornerback Bryce Callahan and linebackers Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox.
A year ago, the defense struggled due to a lack of familiarity with Staley’s scheme and the inability of some players to fit the scheme properly. As the injuries mounted, the Chargers’ lack of depth was exposed.
“That was our vision, was to build a complete defensive football team,” Staley said Sunday. “I think what you saw out there today was a complete defensive football team. There is still a lot of work to do.”
Asked specifically about the performance of the new additions, Staley said he saw exactly what he thought he would. Along with Mack’s three sacks, Callahan had five tackles and an interception, and Fox split a sack with Joey Bosa.
“I’ve seen these guys do it all,” Staley said. “Well, for me, it was nothing new. I told the team. These guys played the way they always play, the way I’ve always seen them play. … I’m just glad everyone saw it today.”
Bryce Callahan was excellent at reception
Along with his interception, Callahan was instrumental in limiting Las Vegas receiver Hunter Renfrow. A 2021 Pro Bowl player, Renfrow wasn’t even targeted until late in the third quarter.
He finished with three catches for 21 yards. When these teams met in Week 18 last season, Renfrow had a pair of receiving touchdowns.
“Bryce Callahan is one of the top linebackers in the league and has been since 2015,” Staley said. “You all understand why we brought him here and why we have so much faith and trust in him.
“He’s a prime-time player and he can do a lot of things out there that help you win games. I’m really proud of him. I know that taking the field with him is a great feeling as a coach.”
Samuel had an impact
Asante Samuel Jr. had some rough stretches as Davante Adams caught 10 passes for 141 yards in his Las Vegas debut. However, the sophomore corner finished with four tackles and two pass breakups. He also had his third career shutout.
Early in the fourth quarter, Derek Carr tried to go deep on Adams. Samuel slipped away from man coverage as Carr ran and located the ball, picking it off inside the Chargers five-yard line.
“That interception is about as good as you’ll see in the NFL,” Staley said. “He’s capable of it. He plays with confidence. He is fearless. He got hit a few times out there today, but it doesn’t bother him, which I like.”
Samuel also had a brief altercation with Adams after one game.
“I like that,” teammate Derwin James Jr. said. “That’s part of football. He definitely has it in him. I like.”
Derwin James can fire
James had the first of the Chargers’ six sacks, dropping Carr on the Raiders’ second offensive play.
He went around left tackle Colton Miller, who was fighting Mack at the time, then ran past running back Josh Jacobs before climbing Carr and taking him down.
“Go watch it on film because this guy is special,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said of James. “He’s just an incredible player. He deserves everything he just got in this contract and more.”
Last month, James signed an extension that added four years and $76 million — $42 million in total guarantees — to his rookie deal.
Punter JK Scott impressed
Punter JK Scott also had an impressive debut for the Chargers, with his first attempt downed at the Las Vegas two-yard line.
Scott averaged 49 yards on four punts. Renfrow returned two of those punts for just four yards total and had a nice catch.
“The operation,” Staley said, “was really critical to our success.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.