Raiders End Chargers Season
Chargers fall into the Black Hole in season finale in Las Vegas
January 13, 2022
From Las Vegas: Former Baltimore Ravens head coach Ted Marchibroda used to say that "more games are lost than won in the NFL." The truth is that many head coaches have said that, including the best head coach in the NFL, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. For the Los Angeles Chargers, that saying pretty much epitomizes their 2021 season.
The Los Angeles Chargers needed a win in the season finale, and they were in the NFL Playoffs. The only thing standing in their way was the Las Vegas Raiders and a hostile, partisan home crowd. In the final game of the 2021 NFL regular season, the Raiders prevailed over the Chargers, 35-32 in overtime. On the final play of the game, Raider's kicker Daniel Carlson nailed a 47-yard field goal to win it and send the Raiders to only their second playoff appearance in the past twenty years.
The Carlson field goal set off a wild celebration among the Raider players on the field and among the Raider fans in the stands, with confetti raining down on everyone in attendance at the game and on the field. The Raiders are the No. 5 seed in the seven team AFC playoff and will take on the No. 4 seed Bengals in Cincinnati in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The Raiders ended the regular season with a record of 10-7.
The Chargers ended their season with a 9-8 record. Head Coach Brandon Staley was understandably frustrated with the loss. "I am disappointed because I feel like we are one of the best teams in the NFL," said Staley. "This team is not only good enough to be in the tournament, but to win it. I know who is in the tournament, and I felt like we have a good enough team to be in it."
Staley can point to the fact that the Chargers beat four of the seven playoff teams in the AFC during the regular season. The Chargers were 4-3 in their seven games against AFC playoff teams. Besides the Raiders loss on Sunday Night, the Chargers also lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime and loss to the Patriots, 27-24, after leading early in the fourth quarter 17-16.
Staley could also point to the Chargers prolific offense, which ranked 4th in total offensive yardage per game at 390.2 yards per game, 5th in scoring at 27.9 points per game and tied for second in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys at 282.4 yards per game. Second-year quarterback Justin Herbert threw for 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns, both easily team records. There was no team in the AFC that would have been looking forward to facing the Herbert and the Charger offense.
What kept the Chargers from being in the playoffs this season was their defense. The defense was ranked 30th in the NFL against the run, allowing 138.9 yards per game. The defense was tied at 29th with the Atlanta Falcons in defensive scoring, allowing 27.0 points per game. The Chargers ranked last in the NFL in third down defense, allowing their opponent to convert 49.54% of third down attempts.
The other issue that haunted the Chargers were some of Staley's on-field decisions. In the loss to the Chiefs in overtime, the defense collapsed in the fourth quarter, but in the first three quarters, Staley decided to go for it on fourth and short rather than kick a field goal. All three attempts failed. Staley's aggressive decisions had left nine Charger points on the field.
Against the Raiders, trailing 17-14 in the third quarter, the Charger offense faced a four-and-one at their own 18-yard line. In the NFL, this would be considered an easy decision for most head coaches. Punt the football. Staley decided to go for it. The move failed, as running back Austin Ekeler was tackled in the backfield on a run up the up the middle for a two-yard loss.
The decision to go for it on their own 18 at that point of the game was reckless. It gave the Raiders an easy three points, and a 20-14 lead. The defense was able to hold the Raiders offense to just three points, but that was three points given to the Raiders that would have helped in the end. Also, if the Chargers are going to go for it on fourth down deep in their own territory, the best play call would be for Herbert to have the ball in his hands. He is the Chargers best offensive player.
Besides those three points, two Chargers turnovers setup ten Raiders points. With the Raiders leading 3-0 in the first quarter, Andre Roberts fumbled a punt at the 23-yard line. That set up a 12-yard touchdown pass from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, to give the Raiders a 10-0. A Herbert interception in the 4th quarter helped setup another three points for the Raiders.
After the Raiders went ahead 10-0, the Chargers stormed back with a 14 play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 14-yard touchdown run by Ekeler. That cut the lead to 10-7. After a Raider punt, the Chargers drove 90 yards in 13 plays, with this drive culminating in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to Ekeler, giving the Chargers their first lead of the game, 14-10, with 1:52 remaining in the first half.
Unfortunately, that was the last time the Chargers had the lead in the game. The Chargers porous run defense allowed a 23-yard run on a third-and-23 from the Raiders 35-yard line and followed that up with a 41-yard pass interference call on defensive back Chris Harris, setting up a one-yard Josh Jacobs touchdown run. They Raiders led 17-14.
By the fourth quarter, the Chargers were trailing 29-14, with just 8:23 remaining in the game. The game was now on Herbert's shoulders. Herbert somehow put together two scoring drives in that span and a two-point conversion, with the Chargers tying the game at 29-29 on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams on the last play of the fourth quarter. The Chargers had run 33 offensive plays in the two scoring drives. All 33 were pass plays. The Chargers had an amazing five fourth down conversions in the two offensive drives.
In overtime, the two teams exchanged field goals, with the Raiders scoring first. The game was tied at 32-32 with 4:30 remaining in the game. Since both teams would get into the playoffs in the case of a tie, there was the possibility that both teams could at some point let the clock run out. That became a real possibility when the Raiders had moved the ball to the Chargers 39-yard line.
With a third down and four coming up, neither team was stopping the clock. The Raiders were in a shot-gun formation, but they were going to run the ball. With 38 seconds left, Staley decided to call a time-out. As Staley said after the game, "We needed to get in the right grouping. We felt like they were going to run the ball, so we wanted to get our best 11 personnel run defense in."
With the timeout, the Raiders changed their play, Carr got under center. The Chargers had taken an extra linebacker off the field, leaving just one inside linebacker on the field. That did not make a lot of sense and it showed on the next play. Jacobs rushed for ten yards and a first down at the Charger 29-yard line. The Raiders ran the clock down to two seconds and kicked the winning field goal.
The 2021 Chargers had once again proven the NFL maxim that more games are lost than won. Staley's a good young coach, but he has got to learn from these experiences and find a way to win these games in 2022. He has to figure out the difference between being aggressive and being reckless. The Charger defense regressed from 2020 to 2021, even though Pro Bowl safety Derwin James was healthy for most of the season. He did not play in 2020 due to injury.
Staley, who was hired as a defensive guru, needs to work with General Manager Tom Telesco to find the players that will fit his defensive scheme. The offense needs to find a starting right tackle to protect their franchise quarterback. Herbert set franchise records in passing yardage in a season with 5,014 passing yards and in touchdown passes with 38. Herbert can take this team to a Super Bowl, but he will need help and that starts with players and coaches finding ways to win games.