4 takeaways from Chargers’ 13-12 loss to Chiefs

Los Angeles ended the season with their fifth consecutive loss, dropping them to 5-12 at the hands of a skeleton crew Chiefs unit.

Here’s what to take away from the game.

Scrambling Stick

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

One of the primary appeals of Stick entering the starting lineup after Justin Herbert was placed on IR with a finger injury was the backup’s ability to make plays with his legs. Fans hadn’t really seen those traits manifest in Stick’s first three starts – there were a few flashes, but Los Angeles continued to use it as a changeup, not a fastball.

On Sunday, Stick carried the ball 13 times for 77 yards, both team highs. Some of those were scrambles, but a decent chunk of them came on designed QB runs or option plays designed to put the defense in conflict with the athletic Stick at the helm. The fifth-year quarterback’s playmaking on the ground was often what kept the Chargers driving in Sunday’s contest.

Moving into 2024, there’s room to take some of those plays and apply them to gameplans involving Herbert, himself an underrated threat in the run game. LA will likely have completely new staff by then, but those coaches would likely be wise to watch this tape and apply some of the concepts to the Chargers’ new system.

Bring back Mack

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mack had another sack on Sunday, bringing his season total to 17 and putting him just two behind the league leader TJ Watt. The former Defensive Player of the Year also had two other tackles for loss in the run game, two passes batted down, and hit Chiefs quarterback Blaine Gabbert five total times.

Entering the season, the prevailing wisdom was that Los Angeles would likely move on from Mack because of his 2024 cap hit in the context of the Chargers’ constraints in that department. But after a season like this, it’s hard to imagine letting the superstar move on unless he asks to be traded to a contending organization. There are other moves LA can make, and they’d be just as difficult to emotionally reconcile, but Mack’s presence as both a player and a leader have been extremely evident this season.

Finishing drives

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers did not score a touchdown in almost eleven quarters of football to close this season. Their last trip to the end zone came with 13:49 left in the second quarter of their Week 16 game against Buffalo, when Stick took a one yard run across the goal line.

Generally speaking, that’s not very good. There are mitigating circumstances, namely a decimated skill corps and backup quarterback. But the Chargers were actually the only team to start a backup for three or more games and not win a single time; 13 other squads overcame those circumstances to come away victorious at some point this season. Three of those teams beat the Chargers themselves, not to mention the Chiefs with Gabbert under center.

LA’s lack of finishing ability is not really a new problem with Stick in the lineup, either. It’s just that Herbert was talented enough to overcome the cracks that already began to show in the first half of the year. Again, the staff probably turns over in 2024. But Los Angeles needs to find more consistent ways to turn long drives into touchdowns, no matter who’s on the sideline for them.

Matt Prater, public enemy #1

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

A Chargers loss, Giants win, and Cardinals win put Los Angeles in the #4 pick in the NFL Draft, reopening the possibility of selecting Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr. With New York outpacing the Eagles by two touchdowns and Arizona up 20-13 over Seattle, a long Chargers drive resulting in a 20 yard Cameron Dicker field goal to take a 12-10 lead seemed like it’d drop LA down to the #6 pick.

Instead, the Chargers gave up two long Gabbert scrambles and Kansas City got into position to kick a go-ahead field goal that ended up being the game-winner. But around the same time, the Seahawks found Tyler Lockett in the end zone and then elected to go for 2, again hitting Lockett to take a 21-20 lead. As Stick took a sack and failed to convert for the Chargers, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals got down the field far enough to give kicker Matt Prater a 51 yard attempt for the win.

And then, in the most Chargers fashion possible, Prater pushed the kick wide right. Seattle came away victorious, putting the Cardinals in the #4 spot and pushing LA down to #5, likely out of the range of the best wide receiver prospect to grace the league in a long while. While it’s still not a bad spot to be in – the Chargers will have their pick of LSU receiver Malik Nabers, Georgia TE Brock Bowers, or a hefty trade down package – sneaking into the Harrison sweepstakes would have been the best-case scenario.

Story originally appeared on Chargers Wire