Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, left, greets Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) after an NFL football game in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, left, greets Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) after an NFL football game in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
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COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Derwin James is on his way back to the Los Angeles Chargers' lineup after returning to practice Thursday.

Joey Bosa isn't there yet, but he must be getting closer.

The Chargers' defense came together over the past two weeks even without its big stars, and it can carry the Bolts (8-6) toward a playoff spot if it can shut down Nick Foles and the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.

James received a Pro Bowl nod this week after missing the past two games with a quadriceps injury. Chargers coach Brandon Staley didn't confirm James will play in Indianapolis, but the Bolts clearly hope that's the case.

“It’s going to be great to have him back,” Staley said. “I thought that he really lifted our team while he was away. He did a lot of things behind the scenes to help that group play well, and I thought it was important that we played well without him. Since he has been playing on this team, I think that it was the first time that we have really played at a high level without him out there. To get him back and be able to integrate him into our defense, it’s just going to make us that much stronger.”

The Chargers' defense stood strong in back-to-back victories over Miami and Tennessee, yielding a combined 31 points and 503 total yards to two playoff contenders. That's an improvement on last season, when Los Angeles allowed at least 300 yards in each of its final 13 games.

Those Chargers stumbled down the stretch, losing two of their final three games to miss the playoffs at 9-8. The most embarrassing loss was a 41-29 defeat at Houston in Week 16 to a four-win Texans team with no playoff chances.

One year later in Week 16, Los Angeles faces a four-win Colts team nearly eliminated from playoff contention. But the Chargers' defense is determined to make sure this season ends differently.

“The way I look at it, December football is playoff football,” Chargers defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day said. “Right now, we’re in it, and we’re trying to continue the trend of winning so we can establish ourselves in the playoff picture. It’s very important, and we don’t take any team lightly, especially this team. They have great players on both sides of the ball.”

Bosa hasn't played for the Chargers since Week 3, and the team has given no indication when its star edge rusher will return from his groin injury. He still hasn't returned to practice, but the team clearly hopes he can return at least for a postseason game.

The Chargers' injury problems are multifold with 14 players on injured reserve along with many others working through smaller knocks, but the recent defensive results show that the injured stars' replacements have benefitted from the opportunity to play.

Staley points to Kyle Van Noy's contributions on the edge with opportunities created by injuries to Bosa and others, while Alohi Gilman has excelled at safety in James' absence.

“It says a lot about the depth of our team that we have enough guys to be able to do it,” Staley said. “Kyle Van Noy and Khalil (Mack) have really led the way on the edge for us, but we've had quality contributions from so many guys, and it's been the same way in the secondary. I think Lo (Gilman), what he has been able to do for our defense, is really giving us confidence out there.”

And the injuries keep coming: Joe Gaziano became the fifth defensive lineman on injured reserve after his groin injury last weekend. His absence creates opportunities for Chris Rumph and others to show what they can do with more snaps.

“That's what we have to keep doing,” Staley said. “We have to keep bringing guys in and get them playing quality football.”

NOTES: Staley said the Chargers “are still acquiring the facts” about cornerback J.C. Jackson's arrest in Massachusetts on Monday. Authorities called it “a nonviolent family issue.” ... Joseph-Day (knee/back injuries) and CB Bryce Callahan (groin) were limited in practice.


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