The Chargers blew a 27-0 lead. In the Wild Card round. After forcing five first-half turnovers.
I guess we have to talk about it, right?
Stud: Asante Samuel Jr.
Samuel had a historic playoff debut, snagging three interceptions in the first half to help the Chargers jump to a 27-7 halftime lead. The second-year corner also defended three other passes to bring his total number to six, making up nearly half of the Chargers team total. Samuel won all night by playing physical, much to the chagrin of the Jaguars fans in Jacksonville. But Samuel keyed in early on to the referees’ willingness to let the DBs play, and that aggressiveness paid off in spades for the entire game. Samuel did falter in the second half once, on a touchdown to Marvin Jones, on which the corner was left in the dust as Jones found open space as Trevor Lawrence extended the play.
Dud: Lead retention
Again: this game was 27-0. TWENTY SEVEN. To. NOTHING. For the last 34:25 of the game, the Chargers were outscored 31-3, allowing a Jaguars touchdown to close the first half and then failing to score anything but a 50-yard Cameron Dicker field goal midway through the third quarter. Once LA jumped out to that lead, they seemingly just…stopped playing. The offense lost all of its juice despite the momentum you’d think they’d carry from scoring so many easy touchdowns. The defense stopped playing aggressively, which is how the Chargers generated four of its five turnovers in the first place. Trevor Lawrence took advantage, launching three second-half touchdowns and playing like the quarterback he’s always been billed as.
Stud: Points off turnovers
Los Angeles scored 20 of their 30 points off turnovers in this one, a welcome departure from the rest of the season where the Chargers failed at nearly every opportunity to convert off turnovers generated by the defense. Yes, LA had a remarkably short field in most of these cases: touchdown drives of 18 and 16 yards and a field goal drive of 1 yard that stalled inside the 5. The Chargers also drove 57 yards for a field goal after the fourth down interception of Trevor Lawrence in the first quarter. Their only other ten points came after a one-yard three-and-out and a field goal sandwiched between two Jaguars touchdown drives. At the end of the day, their ability to convert on Jacksonville’s early mistakes kept the Chargers in the game.
Dud: Ja’Sir Taylor
It’s not really Taylor’s fault that he struggled on Saturday night, considering he had to replace Michael Davis midway through the game and play outside corner full-time for the first time outside of garbage time this season. Davis, who was in and out with a pectoral injury after an awkward tackle in the third quarter, is an impossibly high bar for another Charger to clear, given the quality of Davis’ play this season. Credit to Jacksonville, who keyed in on the matchup immediately and targeted Taylor fairly often to close the game. Taylor had a bad missed tackle of Marvin Jones in the third quarter, as well as a pass interference penalty that kept a Jaguars drive alive.
Stud: Trey Pipkins III
Pipkins was instrumental in keeping Justin Herbert mostly clean on Saturday. His performance against Josh Allen and Travon Walker was the latest feather in a cap that’s proven worthy of a contract extension. While other members of the Chargers’ offensive line had their ups and downs – Jamaree Salyer left the game early with an ankle injury, Matt Feiler gave up a pivotal sack, and Zion Johnson had an illegal man downfield penalty and sack allowed – Pipkins was solid all night. The first order of business after the coaching staff is sorted out, and there’s plenty to be done, should be getting Pipkins and his agent to the negotiating table for next season and beyond.
Dud: Derwin James Jr.
I thought this was an uncharacteristically poor game from James, who’s coming off a first-team Players’ All-Pro and second-team AP All-Pro selection earlier in the week. The stud safety didn’t seem to have it in the biggest moments on Saturday. The 39-yard deep crosser to Zay Jones to energize the Jacksonville crowd and bring the Jaguars within 10 was a blown coverage by James. His responsibility is the deep half, but he sees Lawrence’s eyes drift in his direction and thinks Lawrence wants the shallower route in front of him. James closes because the Chargers had played those routes aggressively all game, and nobody carries Jones across the field. Easy touchdown. James also had his fair share of issues trying to contain Christian Kirk, who came alive in the second half.
Stud: Gerald Everett
Without Mike Williams, it seemed like a fair question to ask where the offensive production for the Chargers was going to come from, considering Jacksonville would likely (and did) hone in on Keenan Allen. While Allen still had six catches for 61 yards, Everett led the team in receiving, matching Allen’s six catches but extending them for 109 yards and a score despite being forced out of the game momentarily with an injury. Everett’s role had shrunk in recent weeks with both Allen and Williams on the field, but Jacksonville really struggled to keep him contained over the middle and on crossing routes. The tight end took advantage and became one of the few reliable chain movers of the game for Justin Herbert. It’ll be interesting to see what LA elects to do now, as Everett’s contract will need to be renewed if he’s to suit up again for the Chargers. If this is his final game in the powder blues, though, he made it a good one.
Dud: General malaise
Where to start with this franchise? I was six years old when Nate Kaeding missed that field goal in 2004 that set up the playoff loss to the Jets. I was eight when Marlon McCree fumbled. My entire childhood and adolescence has been built upon the highs and lows of this team. The 2008 squad with the #1 offense and defense but the worst special teams in NFL history. Every Philip Rivers game of Herculean effort came up short. I’ve watched every second of it.
Saturday was perhaps the worst one yet. Maybe that’s recency bias, maybe it’s because I’m older now, or maybe it’s because I watched the game with my best friend, a Jaguars fan. But my gut says this is the worst one, especially when you add all the context together.
Brandon Staley playing his starters in Week 18 only to have Mike Williams get injured going to get a lot of attention, more than it already has. And it should! But the only reason, to hear Staley tell it, that they had to do that was because there was nobody else to play. The Chargers only carried five wide receivers on the active roster all season. They chose not to elevate one for Week 18 nor the playoff game, despite both being opportunities to do so. After Williams’ injury, only four healthy receivers remained available, which is why Keenan Allen played into the fourth quarter. On Saturday, once DeAndre Carter was ruled out with an ankle injury, the only receivers available were Allen, Josh Palmer, and Michael Bandy. What kind of sense does that make?
To harp on a point from before: the Chargers were up 27-0 in the second quarter. They forced five Jaguars turnovers, including four interceptions of Trevor Lawrence. People were ready to crown LA as divisional round participants. And then they just laid down and let Jacksonville author a comeback that nobody will ever forget. Lawrence got to pen the first chapter in what seems to be an illustrious playoff career, while Justin Herbert was left with nothing more than a rough draft. Primetime Herbert can pilot this team through anything, no matter the situation, people said. I remember saying the same thing about Rivers. It’s fair, too: LA has been blessed with transcendent, top-of-the-line QB play in nearly every season I’ve been alive to see. But that’s not enough for this organization. In my mind, it will continue not to be enough until I’m proven wrong.
Oh, and our phenom rookie kicker missed a field goal in a game that ended with a two-point margin after the opponent’s young kicker made theirs. We live in 2004 again.
The Chargers are a deeply, deeply cursed franchise. Chargering is not leaving the football lexicon anytime soon. It goes beyond execution on the field, beyond coaching, beyond the things we can see and quantify and understand.
See you next season to do it all again.