Chargers end season with a stunning playoff loss
January 19, 2023
Two years ago, on January 17th, 2021, the Los Angeles Chargers hired Brandon Staley to become their new head coach. Staley was determined from the start to change the culture of the team, to find a way to overcome the culture of losing and failing. For the Chargers team they were trying to find a way to win close games. That process of change has hit several bumps in the road to this point.
For the second straight year, the Chargers football season ended on a field goal with no time left on the clock. Last season, the Chargers lost to the Raiders 35-32 in overtime on a 47-yard field goal from Daniel Carlson with no time on the clock. That loss cost the Chargers a playoff berth. This past Saturday night in Jacksonville, the 2022 season closed for the Chargers on a last second 36-yard field goal by Riley Patterson, giving the Jaguars a 31-30 win over the Chargers.
Both losses were heartbreakers, in the tradition of heartbreaking losses suffered by the Chargers historically. But this loss to the Jaguars was stunning and hard to comprehend. The Chargers had built a 27-0 lead late in the second quarter behind five turnovers, four interceptions of Jaguar quarterback Trevor Lawrence and a fumbled punt. They were in complete control. But there was a turning point.
On 3rd-and-1 from the Chargers 27 yard line, the Chargers decided to run a jet sweep with wide receiver Michael Bandy, who was in for injured wide receiver DeAndre Carter. Bandy had never run the play in a game and was apparently not aware that he was to take the hand off from Herbert. The exchange was fumbled but Bandy was able to recover the ball at the Charger 17-yard line for a ten-yard loss.
The Chargers punted, the Jaguars got the ball on the Chargers 47-yard line with 1:49 left, and seven plays later they scored on a Lawrence pass to tight end Evan Engram, to cut the halftime lead to 27-7 and flip the momentum. In the second half, the Jaguars scored touchdowns on three consecutive offensive possessions, which led to the game winning field goal by Patterson.
The Jaguars stopped turning the ball over in the second half and the Chargers defense collapsed. The Chargers could not run the ball in the second half. They rushed for 20 yards on 8 carries, but one was a 13 yard scramble from Herbert. The designed runs gained seven yards on seven carries.
Three days after the loss, the Chargers decided to part ways with Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi and Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterback coach Shane Day. The Chargers had to be concerned with the fact that Justin Herbert regressed this season. Herbert still had a good season, throwing for 4,739 yards, 25 touchdowns and ten interceptions.
But the offense had a lack of explosion and big plays. Running back Austin Ekeler set a single-season franchise record with 107 receptions but gained just 6.7 yards per reception. Herbert was throwing short to Ekeler on screens and checkdowns because the Chargers did not have receivers that could consistently get open downfield. There is a lack of speed on the roster, especially after the ACL injury in Week 3 knocked wide receiver Jalen Guyton out for the season.
Starting wide receiver Mike Williams missed four regular season games with a high ankle sprain and Keenan Allen, the other starting wide receiver, missed seven regular season games with a hamstring pull. Williams also missed the playoff game against the Jaguars with a small fracture in his back, an injury he sustained playing in a late-season meaningless game against the Broncos.
The lack of speed and depth at wide receiver, combined with key injuries on the offensive line and a struggling running game put everything on Herbert's shoulders this season. All of the offensive issues led to an inconsistent offensive performance throughout the season. At his season-ending press conference, head coach Brandon Staley attempted to address the offensive issues and his reasoning for the firing of Lombardi and Day.
"I think that there is a different level that we need to play at, offensively, particularly at the line of scrimmage and in the run game and having the marriage of the run and the pass, creating more explosions on early downs," Staley said. "There is a style of play that is still out there for us."
That style of play Staley is looking for is likely the San Francisco 49er offensive style. "We made improvements each season toward heading to where we can ultimately go as a football team," Staley said. "But, in terms of us being able to compete for Super Bowls and, ultimately, be as good as we can be, I think that there is another gear that we can get to."
Whatever the Chargers decide to do in the offseason, they need to put this blown 27-0 lead behind them. It will not be easy. A loss like the Jaguar loss can just reinforce the feeling on a team that they will always find a way to lose. Changing that mindset will be the challenge for Staley and the organization going forward.