Chargers fans are still numb nearly 24 hours later. They’re numb after watching their favorite team collapse, nothing new. However, the feeling after witnessing this did not compare to the others.
Their eyes were on the television screen as Jaguars kicker Riley Patterson’s 36-yard field goal went through the uprights as time expired, left stunned but still not even surprised.
It had been reminiscent of watching Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson ending Los Angeles’ 2021 season with a playoff berth on the line after making a buzzer-beating 47-yard field goal in overtime in Week 18, which happened to be just days removed from a year ago when it happened.
It seemed like Los Angeles was on their way to punching their ticket to the AFC Divisional Round, as they held a 27-0 lead in the second quarter over the Jaguars.
Instead, they fell victim to the largest blown lead in franchise history, the third-largest comeback in NFL postseason history, and the first time a team lost a playoff game with a plus-five turnover differential, losing 31-30 on Saturday night at TIAA Bank Stadium.
The Chargers’ collapse occurred not in all three phases but in four.
Offensively, they had just seven rushing yards on seven designed carries over the final two quarters. Justin Herbert missed some throws, including to a wide-open Keenan Allen in the end zone in the second quarter that would’ve brought the lead to 34 points.
Defensively, after picking off Trevor Lawrence four times in the first half by fooling him with disguised coverages and blitzes, Doug Pederson made the proper adjustments. Brandon Staley, the defensive-minded coach, did not.
As a result, Staley could only watch along the sideline as Lawrence engineered four consecutive touchdown-ending drives and the final one that ended in the game-winning field goal.
The defense committed a couple of costly penalties in the second half. Ja’Sir Taylor, who played in place of the injured Michael Davis, had a pass interference penalty on a 2nd-and-19 in the fourth quarter that gave the Jaguars a new set of downs.
Additionally, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from Joey Bosa when he slammed his helmet to the ground after officials didn’t call what he thought was a false start helped the Jaguars score on a two-point conversion.
On special teams, Cameron Dicker, who had been a bright spot, missed a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter, which would have brought them to 33 points, enough to have squeaked out a win.
Along with the product on the field, the Chargers’ loss falls on the shoulders of the Staley. Staley played his starters for most of a meaningless Week 18 game against the Broncos that had no weight on playoff seeding.
Mike Williams suffered a back injury and was forced to miss the wild card round. Los Angeles then had to play with four active receivers. Three after DeAndre Carter, who ended up getting hurt mid-game and was replaced by Michael Bandy.
Williams could’ve been the difference-maker for an offensive unit unable to sustain drives or score touchdowns to extend their lead.
After going 9-8 in his first season, Staley had the vision to build a Super Bowl-caliber roster, bringing in Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Morgan Fox and Kyle Van Noy to a team that had six returning Pro Bowlers.
Of course, the team was hindered by injuries. Jackson suffered a season-end knee injury, Rashawn Slater went down in Week 3 to a biceps injury, Bosa missed most of the season because of a groin injury, and Keenan Allen and Mike Williams were both in and out due to their respective injuries.
But one thing remained the same in Staley’s first two seasons as head coach: they ended the same way, with his defense failing him and a football splitting through the uprights to send the Chargers home.
As talented as Los Angeles, with an elite quarterback and a defense they invested a lot of money and draft picks in, Staley is not winning enough, and it isn’t easy to see him turning things around.
That is why change could be coming.
Staley may get the boot, and there’s been speculation that Sean Payton would be interested in the Chargers’ head coaching job. Payton is still under contract with the Saints. So the question would come down to whether or not Dean Spanos would be willing to give up draft capital and a large chunk of change.
Staley is well-liked by the leadership for the culture he’s built in a short period and how he carries himself. But the only way Staley could save himself is by firing Joe Lombardi as a scapegoat.
The offense has been an ongoing issue, with Lombardi overseeing it. Herbert was made to do extraordinary things with his arm, yet he finished at the bottom of the NFL in depth of target per throw because Lombardi’s system is predicated on quick and underneath throws.
The bottom line is that it’s been many years that Charger fans have listened to media pundits peg the Bolts to the Super Bowl in their preseason predictions, only to be left in a constant cycle of a letdown. These fans deserve better.