On Sunday, it was fourth down and the Chargers were down by three points. Broncos fans cheered loudly, hoping to help their team seal the victory. The ball was hiked, Mike Williams raced downfield then began to break off his route. As he veered towards the sideline the towering wideout began to slip. As Philip Rivers’ pass made its way to Williams, he recovered enough to turn and bring the football in with one hand with cornerback Isaac Yiadom draped all over him.
First down Chargers.
“Beasts do, what beasts do,” said running back Melvin Gordon.
That was the best way Gordon could explain the catch made by Williams, of which the receiver had a better description.
“A playmaker making a play,” explained Williams about the catch. “It was a big play on 4th down. Not a lot of people want to be in that kind of position where the game is on you. The ball is coming to you and if you don’t covert it…game over. That’s the type of player I am that will go up there and make the play.”
Williams put his team in a position to either win or tie the game on their final drive. A couple of plays later the coaching staff decided to have kicker Michael Badgley even the game at 20 instead of going for it on 4th and 1 to potentially score the game-winning touchdown. They lost in the closing seconds to the Denver Broncos 23-20, thanks in part to a controversial pass interference call on Casey Hayward that set up a Brandon McManus game-winning field goal.
Three weeks ago, facing 3rd and 15 on Monday night football against the Kansas City Chiefs, Rivers heaved up a prayer that was answered by Williams. The third-year receiver rose up between two defenders close to the sideline for the 50-yard completion. He gave his team a chance to win, but a couple of plays later Rivers threw an interception in the end zone to end the game.
“First thing that came to mind was Malcolm Floyd,” explained fellow receiver Keenan Allen. “Mike has been all crazy with it. He made it with one hand. Malcolm used to have special catches too.”
Floyd was a member of the then-San Diego Chargers, who was loved by all the fans and loved by his quarterback because he would win the 50-50 balls the same way Williams does.
It hasn’t always been an easy road for Williams. In 2015, Williams sat out what should have been his junior year with a fractured neck he suffered in the first game of the season. He had to watch as his team lost in the National Championship to Alabama.
His redshirt junior year, Clemson faced Alabama again in the National Championship. With the Crimson Tide leading 31-28, Williams made a leaping catch over cornerback Anthony Averett on a pass from Deshaun Watson, which helped set them up for the game-winning touchdown.
“In the championship game on the final drive of the season the team was counting on me,” explained Williams. “They threw me the ball. I went up to make a great play on a great player. I have been in those types of situations before and I just keep making plays.”
Williams decided to forego his senior season and was drafted seventh overall by the Chargers. He suffered a setback on the very first day of rookie minicamp when he was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back. It kept him out of practice until September. He played in his first NFL game on October 15th against the Raiders. He had a subpar rookie year only making 11 catches for 95 yards.
“Sometimes I feel like this is my second year,” explained Williams, “I be like ‘damn this is my third year for real.’ But the first year it was so long for some reason. Maybe it was me not playing and being on the sideline the whole time from training camp to the fifth game. These last two years have been pretty good though.”
In his second season, things began to click. In week 2 against the Buffalo Bills, Rivers threw a 10-yard pass to Williams, who made a tough grab between defenders for his first career touchdown.
“Through OTA’s, offseason, training camp all of it he had shown that he was getting better and understanding the offense,” explained Allen.
Williams' biggest game was in week 15 when the Chargers faced the Chiefs in Kansas City. Allen went down during the game and Williams showed why he was top-10 pick. He ran for a touchdown and caught two more, one which was the scoring play that had them down by one-point. They decided to go for two and Williams ended up wide open in the end zone to snap a nine-game losing streak to the Chiefs.
“Last year you could see the type of player he could be, and he was making a lot of plays for us,” explained Hayward. “This year he is making a lot of big catches for us. He has a big catch radius. We got a guy that stretches the field in Mike (Williams) and a guy like Keenan (Allen) who can run the route tree and be the possession guy.”
The Chargers do have one of the most dominant receiver duos in the NFL. Allen is arguably one of the best route runners in the NFL and is dangerous in open field. Williams is a physical receiver who can come down with 50-50 balls and be a huge red-zone target.
“We are a pretty good combination, to be honest,” explained Williams. “We both are cracking 1,000 (yards) if we keep up what we are doing. We got some work to do. I feel like we could be in the discussion of being a good combination.”
All that’s missing this year for Williams are touchdowns. After finding the end zone 11 times in 2018, he’s yet to score for the Bolts in 2019.
“It has been a little frustrating,” admitted Williams. “When you are losing you feel like you could help the team more. If you get a touchdown maybe you win. On the other hand, it is part of the game. Sometimes they will come. Sometimes they won’t. Once I get one, they will come in bunches though.”