Across the room, teammates packed up and hugged goodbye. The equipment staff pushes the trolley. They cursed under their breath. One Charger blurted out to his teammates, “This is something we have to take responsibility for the rest of our lives.”
The Chargers have suffered from such ingrained playoff heartbreak that they only needed one image to open the wound: Nate Kaeding’s calf, Marlon McCree’s turnover, Philip Rivers’ torn ACL. Saturday night’s game at TIAA Bank Field may be the most important. The Chargers lost 31-30 to the Jacksonville Jaguars despite leading 27-0 with four first-half interceptions against Trevor Lawrence. They allowed just three runs in the final 34 minutes, thanks to Herbert’s ballistic quarterback. With the pass rush of Joey Bosa and Khalil Maker, they had 24 points after halftime.
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The Chargers once melted and folded under the weight of their own history. They committed a string of undisciplined penalties, including Bosa’s match-flip helmet grand slam. They defended Jacksonville’s uptempo offense as if the Jaguars had performed alchemy. They missed a 40-yard field goal. They got the finishing touch, Travis Etienne’s 25-yard run on fourth down to Riley Patterson’s 36-yard winner.In the words they now insist more than ever, they charged.
“I’ve seen this movie too many times,” Chargers winger Gerald Everett said.
Now, the future is an issue for Los Angeles. Coach Brandon Staley came under fire for playing his starters in a non-points-related game in Week 18, which left star foreign aid Mike Williams with a broken back, And was ruled out of the game against the Jaguars. That decision, combined with Saturday night’s disaster, could convince Los Angeles to look for a new coach and have the ability to put the possibility of coaching Herbert among the top candidates, starting with Sean Payton.
Firing Staley is easier said than done, especially for a franchise that leases its home court and is building a new practice facility. Staley has two years remaining on his contract. Acquiring Payton would require not only draft compensation to the New Orleans Saints, but a contract that could reset the coaching salary market. What Charger ownership wants to do is one thing. What it can afford may be another.
If Staley survives, he will enter the 2023 season under tremendous pressure. Herbert’s gift didn’t materialize, he was a quarterback on a low contract who could even throw the ball his peers could only dream of. He’s only in his third season. But his quarterback, with the proper support, should thrive at that stage. Patrick Mahomes won a Super Bowl in his third season. Draft classmate Joe Burrow is in his second Super Bowl. Herbert suffered a disastrous loss in his only playoff appearance. From team owner Dean Spanos to general manager Tom Telesco to Staley, it was an organizational failure.
“It’s the toughest way you can lose in the playoffs,” Staley said. “Of course, the way we started the game, that’s the team I knew we were capable of being. We just didn’t finish the game.”
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The Chargers’ long list of self-injuries could be repurposed as an instruction manual on how to waste a season. The Chargers should have taken a bigger lead early on — they scored two first-half field goals from inside the Jaguars’ 5-yard line, one of which came after Herbert missed Keenan Allen After the space in the penalty area. The lead started with a seemingly innocuous gaffe.
Late in the second quarter, the Chargers led 27-0 and had a chance to get the ball into half court. In Game 3 and Game 1, they called one play consisting of a “kill” to another: They would run to the middle unless Herbert saw a specific defensive formation on the line, in which case he Will switch to the second play — the end — round to a receiver streaking in motion.
There is a problem, it makes the game selection inexplicable. All week, the Chargers practiced games with veteran DeAndre Carter taking over. But Carter was absent due to injury in the middle of the game. So the Chargers turned to Michael Bandy, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound wide receiver at the University of San Diego who never caught a ball in his two-year NFL career. hand.
That’s the Chargers in a nutshell: A bad coaching decision based on a lack of depth at the senior position. Bandy collided with Herbert and prevented the handover, diving five yards behind the line. The resulting punt gave the Jaguars enough time to gain possession before halftime, which they used for their first touchdown.
On the Jaguars’ first possession of the second half, Bosa lined up in the neutral zone after the Chargers’ stalled offense, which would have been Mack’s coup de grace. Etienne took the lead on the next play, and Lawrence hit wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. After three plays. A blowout suddenly turned into a two-round match.
“That’s the halftime swing,” Jones said. “That’s everything.”
The Chargers seemed to steady themselves with nearly seven minutes of kickoff while leading 30-20 in the fourth quarter. Staley evaded his trademark fourth down and opted for a 40-yard field goal that Cameron Dicker hooked to the left of the post.
“Time stood still,” Everett said. “They’re starting to rally, coming back, they’re building morale. Their confidence is growing. All we can do is sit back and watch.”
The Jaguars stormed the field again, using a game-altering fast pace until Lawrence found Christian Kirk for a nine-yard touchdown. Bosa slammed his helmet off the court, his second personal foul of the game. The penalty convinced coach Doug Pedersen, who opted to hit both free throws. Lawrence started crossing the line at the 1, meaning Patterson’s field goal would win the game rather than send it to overtime.
The Chargers ran for five yards on third of the play and responded. The Jaguars used Etienne’s outburst at right end as their game-winning key. Ultimately, the Chargers were unresponsive to the Jaguars’ up-tempo offense, challenging Staley’s reputation as a defensive maestro. Safety Drue Tranquill said it exposed L.A.’s sub-par workouts and tackles.
“We’ve got to be able to put our cleats on on grass and not have a breakdown,” Tranquill said. “We just gave them some explosive play on breakdowns. Earlier in the week, Coach Staley said, ” We have to let them beat us. “We beat ourselves.
“When it’s 27-0, you’re fully expected to win the game on defense. It shouldn’t matter what offense you committed. When you’re up 27-0, you’re supposed to win the game on defense.”
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The failure of The Chargers came head-on with Lawrence, a 23-year study of the balance, bounce, and virtues of a premium conditioner. He completed 4 of his first 16 passes and had 4 interceptions, 3 of which were intercepted by cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., becoming the first player since Craig Morton in the 1978 Super Bowl. The quarterback who threw 4 interceptions in the first half of the playoffs. After his fourth interception, Lawrence completed 24 of his final 31 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns.
“I know he’s fine no matter what, because that’s the kind of guy he is,” Jones said. “If he throws four pick-and-rolls or throws for 500 yards, he’s the same guy. He has that composure. So it’s easy to get behind him.”
Herbert might be on his way to victory, but he had to digest the shock and disappointment Saturday night. Eventually, he got up from his seat and changed into his undershirt. He walked into the post-match press conference with his head held high. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said.
“It’s been really tough because we think so highly of our team,” Herbert said. “That was a special group of people in the dressing room. They deserved better, but it didn’t go the way we wanted. Definitely difficult to deal with, but it has to go on.”
The Chargers have to decide which coach will lead them next year, Staley or a rookie. Late Saturday night, Staley was carrying a black backpack with the Chargers logo on it. His wife squeezed his shoulder as he walked down the tunnel from the dressing room. He made his way to the team bus, past equipment trucks and ambulances, out of yet another Chargers fiasco and into an uncertain future.