Chargers Suffer Another Frustrating Loss in Buffalo

The Los Angeles Chargers are in a rut. No matter what they do, they consistently find a way to lose football games that they should or could win. Whether it is a special teams' failures or defensive breakdowns or offensive errors, the Chargers cannot keep from tripping over themselves near the finish line. The Chargers hit another low point in losing 27-17 to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

The Chargers are a passing team riding the golden arm of a rookie sensation. They lack a consistent rushing attack. Joshua Kelly leads the Chargers in rushing yardage at 346 and the team has not had a 100-yard rusher in a game this season. They have not been able to get four quarters of consistency from the defense.

The team has talent and injuries have not helped, but after the game at Buffalo, it has become obvious that there likely needs to be a change in coaching. Charger head coach Anthony Lynn is 29-30 as the head coach of the team. He was 21-11 in his first two seasons, with a playoff victory over the Baltimore Ravens on the road in his second season. His teams are prepared, they play hard and he seems to be a good mentor, but something is missing.

Against the Bills, game management issues and time management issues were front and center in the loss. For example, after Herbert completed a pass to running back Austin Ekeler, the Chargers had a 4th and 2 from the Bills 48-yard line with just under 30 seconds to go in the half and trailing, 17-6. They had two timeouts and the play clock had four more seconds than the game clock. Lynn called a timeout with 21 seconds remaining, using one of his last two timeouts.

At this point, with four more seconds on the play clock, there was no reason to punt. They could have avoided using the timeout and simply let the clock run out. The Chargers had three punts blocked in the five previous games, so punting seemed like an unnecessary risk. The logical choice seemed to be to go for a first down and try to get some points on the board before halftime.

Lynn decided to punt the ball and the Bills just ran the clock out. They received the opening kickoff of the second half and after a 38-yard return, the Bills had a first down at the 43-yard line. Twelve plays and 57 yards later, Bills quarterback Josh Allen sprinted three yards for a touchdown to give the Bills a 24-6 lead. The 18-point deficit was the largest of the season for the Chargers.

Lynn attempted to explain his decision to punt at the end of the first half: "I didn't think it was worth the risk at that time," explained Lynn. "Because that kicker can kick, and if we didn't get it, that one play and they kick it, and they may get points. That is a huge momentum shift right there before the half." The problem with that argument is that the momentum was already with the Bills and it seemed like the Chargers needed to be aggressive at that point.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Chargers had a third down and inches at the Bills 7-yard line. They decided to run an option pitch to Kelly, who tried to run wide to the left but was tackled at the ten for a three-yard loss. A simple quarterback sneak should have gotten the six inches needed for a first down. A very questionable play call. On fourth and three from the ten-yard line, the Chargers ended up wasting a timeout after arguing the spot of the football and settled for a 27-yard field goal from kicker Michael Badgley.

The Chargers saved the best for last. Trailing 27-17 and with no timeouts, the Chargers had a fourth-and-27 from their own 43-yard line. Herbert threw a Hail Mary pass and the prayer was answered by Tyron Johnson at the Bills 2-yard line. The Chargers lined up with 24 seconds to go and rather than spike the ball, Herbert handed it off to Ekeler, who gained one yard. With three seconds left, Herbert attempted a sneak from the one-yard line that failed when his blockers dropped into pass protection.

Maybe the Chargers were so surprised by the fourth-and-27 conversion that they were unprepared for what to do after it. According to Lynn, that was not the issue: "What happened today at the end of the game ... was miscommunication." He added later: "That falls on me. That was screwed up and it looked bad, I completely understand that. We've practiced all situations before, and the communication just broke down."

The loss dropped the Chargers to 3-8 for the season and left them with no hope of making the playoffs. The Bills improved to 8-3 for the season and remain in first place in the AFC East, one game ahead of the Miami Dolphins.

One play in the game illustrated the difference between the Bills and the Chargers. Leading 7-6 in the second quarter, the Bills drove to the Chargers 20-yard line. On second down and eight yards to go at the 20, wide receiver Cole Beasley caught a lateral from Allen and found a wide-open rookie wide receiver Gabriel Davis in the end zone to give the Bills a 14-6 lead. The 20-yard touchdown pass was the first of Beasley's career, and the second this season by a Bills wideout.

The Bills like to run trick plays and the Chargers do not. The Bills do a good job of executing trick plays and it is an important part of their offense. They like being aggressive on offense. The Chargers are punting on fourth and two from the Bills 48-yard line with 21 seconds left because they are scared to make a mistake.

The Chargers welcomed the return of Ekeler, who was back from a bad hamstring injury after missing seven weeks of action. The Chargers had hoped to ease Ekeler in, but they needed him, and he ended up playing 60 snaps on Sunday, which is a career high. Ekeler rushed 14 times for 44 yards and caught 11 passes for 85 yards.

Defensively, Joey Bosa had a monster game against the Bills. Bosa had seven solo tackles, six tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, one pass defended, three sacks and a fumble recovery. He should easily be the Defensive Player of the Week in the AFC. In the second half, the Chargers defense created three turnovers in eight offensive snaps.

Unfortunately, the offense was unable to take advantage of the mistakes. A combination of offensive execution and questionable play calling made it a tough day on offense. There were several dropped balls by the Chargers during the game. Herbert was also off-target on some throws that he usually makes. The Bills defense sacked Herbert three times and had nine quarterback hits on Herbert. The Bills defense also had 11 tackles for loss.

The Chargers return home this Sunday, December 6th, to take on the New England Patriots in SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. The game will start at 1:25 PM and will be televised on CBS. The Patriots are 5-6 on the season and still have an outside shot at the playoffs. They are led by quarterback Cam Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP.

Newton has struggled at times this season, throwing only four touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has rushed for 387 yards and has nine rushing touchdowns. The Patriots like to blitz, and they have an effective zero blitz concept, which means they will bring everyone and leave the corners in man-to-man coverage. This game will be a challenge for young Herbert but hopefully he can meet it and help get the Chargers out of their rut and help the Chargers find a victory this weekend at home.


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