Chargers lose heartbreaker to Cowboys, battle Chiefs on Sunday
September 23, 2021
Some old habits are hard to break. In their first regular season game in front of actual fans, the Los Angeles Chargers suffered another last second heartbreaking loss, falling to the Dallas Cowboys, 20-17 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. Attendance for the game was 70,240, with at least half of the fans supporting the Cowboys.
Former Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a 56-yard field goal with no time on the clock to provide the winning margin for the Cowboys. It was the second consecutive season that the Chargers had lost their home opener on a kick of more than 55 yards. In 2020, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Chargers in overtime on a 58-yard field goal by Harrison Butker.
The loss was the 16th since the start of the 2019 season by seven points or less. The Chargers have loss eight games since the start of the 2019 season by three points or less. The story of this game was penalties, 12 on the Chargers for 99 yards, with two of the penalties costing the Chargers touchdowns. Charger head coach Brandon Staley knew exactly where to place the blame for this loss.
"This game was about the Chargers," Staley said. "All the other stuff, I don't really want to talk about. We didn't play a clean enough game to win. Our guys competed, we played together, but we did not play clean enough football to beat that team."
If the two touchdowns are not called back, the Chargers win this game and are 2-0. For the day, quarterback Justin Herbert completed 31 of 41 passes for 338 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Herbert had a 36-yard touchdown pass to tight end Donald Parham called back due to a holding call and a two-yard touchdown pass to Jared Cook also called back due to an illegal shift penalty.
"I felt like Justin Herbert was outstanding in the game," Staley said. "I felt like he gave us a real chance. I felt like he made some premium throws, some premium plays in that game, extending plays, ripping it down the field. If some of those penalties don't happen, this is going to be a monster day. I thought he was fantastic in the game. I thought he was the best player on the field."
Herbert was very good, although the two interceptions cost the Chargers points as well. The first interception came on the Chargers opening drive of the game at the Cowboys 20-yard line, a pass intended for wide receiver Keenan Allen that was slightly behind him in tight coverage. Cowboys' cornerback Trevon Diggs intercepted the ball. The other pickoff came when Keenan Allen fell and Dallas safety Damontae Kazee secured the interception two yards into the end zone.
On the first interception. Herbert admitted that he did not throw a good pass. "Keenan ran a good route. That is just on me to make a better throw, a better decision." On the second interception, Herbert stated, "I gotta be smart. I got to see when he goes down. I got to go to my next read." The Cowboys threw a lot of different looks and pressure at Herbert, but never were able to rattle him. At one point in the first half, Herbert completed 16 consecutive passes.
The Chargers' talented receiving group was led by Allen with four receptions for 108 yards, wide receiver Mike William with seven receptions for 91 yards and one touchdown and running back Austin Ekeler with nine receptions for 61 yards. Herbert completed passes to nine different receivers on the day and if Parham's touchdown would have counted, he would have completed passes to ten different receivers.
Defensively, the Chargers held the Cowboys to 20 points, but struggled to stop the run for the second consecutive game. The Cowboys rushed for 198 yards on 31 carries, a 6.4 yard per carry average. Through two games, the Chargers are allowing 162 yards per game, which is 30th in the NFL. They are giving up an average of 5.6 yards per carry, which ranks 31st in the NFL.
The Chargers are putting the offense on the shoulders of Herbert. Through two games, the Chargers are ranked No. 6 in the NFL in passing play percentage, with 65.7 of the team's offensive plays coming on passes. That illustrates the confidence they have in Herbert, but it would help to establish a running attack. Herbert was sacked twice against the Cowboys and hit nine times.
The Chargers are headed for the road this Sunday when they take on the defending AFC Champion Chiefs in Kansas City. The game is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. locally and will be televised on CBS. The Chiefs are last in rushing defense in the NFL through two games. They are giving up 202 yards per game on the ground. They are also last in average per carry, allowing six yards per carry.
This would be a good time for the Chargers to focus a little more on their running game to take advantage of an apparent Chiefs weakness and try to keep the Chiefs high powered offense off the field as much as possible. All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes, All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce lead the Chiefs. Slowing down this offense is very challenging for any defense.
In the bigger picture, the Chargers are 1-1 and tied for third place in the AFC West with the Chiefs. The Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver Broncos are tied for first at 2-0, with the Raiders looking very impressive after two wins over the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. A loss to the Chiefs would put the Chargers in last place and in an early season hole.
With the Raiders coming to SoFi Stadium in Week 4, the next two weeks are critical for the Chargers. In the tough AFC West, it is advisable to stay within striking distance in the division race. With a new coaching staff, a new offense and a new defense, the Chargers are still not fully clicking yet, which was apparent in the heartbreaking loss to the Cowboys. They need to start clicking soon.