For all the terrible losses the Chargers have endured over recent years, this Jaguars game might be one of the most frustrating yet, second only to the time they lost to the Chase Daniel-led Kansas City Chiefs with a playoff berth on the line.
The Chargers had an absolutely perfect opportunity to get their season back on track on Sunday. A win against the Jaguars would have taken them to 4-5, with a reasonably favorable schedule upcoming and playing in a Conference where 9-7 will see a team grab a Wildcard spot. And they had the game won. They had it won.
There is no team in the NFL - hell, maybe no team in Professional Sports - that is better at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory than the Chargers. So much had to go wrong for them to lose this game. They hit every single one on the list. Let’s have a recap:
Blake Bortles throws an interception to Tre Boston, and the Chargers get the ball up 3 near midfield with 1:51 left to play. Even if you go 3 and out, you force the Jaguars to burn their timeouts and give them the ball back deep in their own territory, leaving Blake Bortles needing to drive about 60 yards in 1:20. Translation: The Chargers win.
Except they don’t, because Austin Ekeler has the ball ripped away from him, and the Jaguars take over at the Chargers 36 yard line. They don’t seem to want to win, either, because Marquise Lee gets a killer 15 yard penalty and Blake Bortles throws a horrible pick straight to Tre Boston for the second time in less than half a minute.
Melvin Gordon comes back in the game, and the Chargers run it three times to burn the Jaguars’ timeouts. (That’s the right call). They have to punt, but Kaser knows the Jags are going to send heavy pressure, and gets it away quickly. The Jags start at their own 48-yard line, with no timeouts and 50 seconds left. They’ve got 20 seconds left and are looking at a 52 yard Field Goal, but Joey Bosa makes his second boneheaded play in the fourth quarter of as many games, slamming Blake Bortles to the ground unnecessarily and giving the Jaguars 15 more yards. They make the kick and take it to OT.
(Reminder - they had a backup long snapper, and their kicker is Josh Lambo. Without those extra 15 yards, there’s a good chance they don’t make the kick).
The Chargers get the Jaguars to punt, but Rivers throws too low for Keenan Allen on second down, before chucking a prayer to Travis Benjamin on third. It’s intercepted, and the Jaguars take it to the 2-yard line. A taunting penalty moves them back, but they line up for a Field Goal. The kick is deflected, but goes through, although it probably wouldn’t have made it another five yards.
Why is that significant? Because the Chargers defense got a delay of game penalty and gave Jacksonville an extra five yards on the kick. One of their defenders was calling out ‘hike’ to try and confuse the Jacksonville long snapper. I mean, really? That’s the kind of move you pull in the playground, and it doesn’t even work there.
Before yesterday, there were only two INTs in TOTAL in our database (back to 1994) thrown by a player trailing after the 2 Minute Warning in a game they won. Bortles had 2 yesterday https://t.co/1YDFBquLzf https://t.co/0pmpd7yYdd— ProFootballReference (@pfref) November 13, 2017
To summarise: the Chargers lose a game they had no business losing, other than for the fact that they’re the Chargers and it’s their divine right. They drop to 3-6 and need to now go 6-1 in their last seven games to make the Playoffs. It’s draft season, baby!
Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Jaguars game, because I’m a sadist and writing that play by play didn’t make me miserable enough.
Firstly: Austin Ekeler is the most effective running back on the Chargers right now.
Melvin Gordon isn’t getting it done and hasn’t been all season. Commentators calling him a ‘volume back’ is hilarious. For starters, ‘getting better the more carries you get’ is a terrible trait. You don’t have time to give an RB 20 carries just to ease them into the flow of the game. That’s not how the NFL works. You either run well from the get-go or you don’t run at all. Secondly: it’s just not true. The more carries you get, the more likely you are to eventually break one for a big run to pad your stats. That doesn’t make you a better runner.
Anthony Lynn has put together a fairly competent coaching staff, but hiring Alfredo Roberts to be the team’s RB coach is a real headscratcher. He’s never coached RBs in the NFL and did it for just one year in college - last century. Lynn is a longtime RB coach, but he doesn’t have time to micromanage that group anymore. If he wanted Alfredo Roberts on his coaching staff (he’s worked with him twice before) he should have kept him as a TE coach, rather than entrusting him to make the move over to RBs.
Melvin Gordon has all the tools in the box to be an elite NFL RB, but he’s playing like a bottom of the pile one right now, and I don’t think the inexperienced coaching is going to help that. Austin Ekeler is outperforming him, and in honesty, Ekeler should be the starter next week.
If Ekeler starts losing snaps because of his fumble, it’s purely a move based on reputation, which is how you lose games and coaches get fired. Melvin Gordon led the league in fumbles in his rookie year, but he was a first-round pick, so he didn’t get punished too heavily. He fumbled the game away against the Saints the year after - in a similar fashion to Ekeler - but was never in danger of losing snaps.
Ekeler is playing fantastically this year, as both a runner and a receiver. He’s the RB who gives the Chargers the best chance to win, so he deserves a bigger load. It’s that simple. (Not to say that he should be the bell cow, but he should absolutely be getting 50% of the carries at least). If he was a high draft pick, that’d absolutely be the case. So far, Anthony Lynn has been true to his word about being a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ coach. The answer to that for Gordon? Not a whole lot. Play Austin Ekeler, coach.
Philip Rivers had a good game up until the last portion, which means he had a bad game. The continued jump balls to Travis Benjamin are absurd. Whisenhunt needs to do a better job with his playcalling late in games (and when the Chargers start deep in their own territory, for that matter), but Rivers is about 15 years too experienced to keep throwing those stupid passes. If Benjamin doesn’t have a step on his defender, you can’t throw that football. The Chargers defense was playing incredibly. Just throw the ball away if nothing’s on (even though Rivers had a couple of other options on that third down) and make Blake Bortles beat you. Rivers threw the game away with a boneheaded decision, and it’s worrying that his football IQ seems to go out the window when ‘Hero Phil’ comes out to play.
On Whisenhunt: His continued failure to get Hunter Henry involved should be a fireable offense in and of itself. This is one of the best TEs in the league, and you give him fewer targets than Derek freaking Watt? His blocking should be an additional strength, rather than his main feature in the offense any time a good pass rush comes to town.
Co-Ordinators often get a lot of unfair abuse, but Whisenhunt can’t stick around after this year. The Chargers offense is absolutely floundering. They’re lost. They’re trying to make the focal point of the offense an RB who’s being outplayed by a UDFA from Western State, their star WR isn’t getting enough of the ball and their star TE is being ignored. Their first-round pick continues to be sparingly used, while Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams soak up targets that should be going elsewhere.
On Benjamin and Tyrell Williams: These two are playing absolutely awful this year. At this point, Benjamin is purely a gadget player. He’s out the door after this year, and that’s no loss. Chargers fans hoped Tyrell Williams could improve his game this year, but he’s regressed to an almost unbelievable level. He looks absolutely nothing like the 1,000 yard WR he was last year. It’s too early to give up on him, but he looks bereft of confidence and isn’t contributing much outside of one long RAC play a game. Dontrelle Inman would probably be the Chargers second best WR right now while they work out what to do with Mike Williams, but they flipped him for a conditional seventh. (Inman had 6 catches for 88 yards in his season debut for the Bears.)
We’ve always thought this offense was a supremely talented one being held back by the offensive line, but that’s absolutely not the case this year. The OL is playing great. They held Sacksonville without a sack all game, the first team to do so. Rivers has been kept clean as a whistle, for the most part. We criticise coaches, so it’s only fair to praise them, too. Pat Meyer has turned this group into a genuine competent offensive line, which has something the team hasn't had for a while. He’s done that with Kenny Wiggins as a starter for the first time at age 29, after having been cut six times - 3 of those by the Chargers. The Chargers skill positions were described as an ‘embarrassment of riches’ this offseason. Right now, they’re just an embarrassment.
No such problem for the defense. Gus Bradley isn’t getting enough love because the Chargers have one of the best defenses in the NFL this year under him. I don’t have much to say about the defense other than that because they were all superb once again against the Jaguars.
I do have one comment, though: how much has this team missed Denzel Perryman? That’s not even to say that Perryman is great (although he is). He’s just the only linebacker on the team that can actually play the run. That’s a damning indictment on the state of this LB corps, but hopefully, his return sees Hayes Pullard take a backseat once he’s back healthy.
One last thing: Rivers might miss the game against the Buffalo Bills, which means his incredible ironman streak would end, and we’d be subjected to watch 60 minutes of Kellen Clemens. If this is how ineffective the offense looks with Rivers under center, I can’t bear to imagine how it’ll look with Clemens running the show. This defense might still be good enough to get the Chargers the win against a floundering Bills team - which would be awesome - but let’s hope we don’t have to find out.