For about 30 minutes of game time, it seemed as though the Los Angeles Chargers were going to make it easy to write a winners and losers post, with Brandon Staley front and center leading the “Winners” column. With a 27-0 first half lead, including four interceptions by the defense off of Trevor Lawrence, Staley had all the momentum in the world to quiet talk of firing him after some questionable Week 18 decisions and to try and hire Sean Payton as his replacement.
Then the Chargers “Chargered” their lead, got outscored 24-3 in the second half, and lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Saturday’s wild card game. LA’s season is over and so too might be Staley’s career as the Chargers head coach.
Only two quarters after it appeared that Staley could be closer to a contract extension than the hot seat, he is instead going to be called the ultimate choke artist after one of the worst-coached halves of football in NFL history. In a game in which Asante Samuel had three interceptions and Justin Herbert played solid football at the quarterback position, LA found a way to lose.
There were winners on the Chargers on Saturday night. But after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Staley is not one of them.
There was talk/joking over whether or not Staley would pull his starters at halftime. Maybe that still would have been better. Or maybe Staley should have been replaced with Sean Payton at halftime.
The Chargers played it too safe, going for field goals instead of keeping the foot on the gas, and then missing a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter. Whatever Staley’s plan was, it completely backfired. If there even was a plan. Staley had a 27-point lead, then a 30-14 lead with 2:58 remaining in the third quarter.
Staley’s defense was then torched for a 68-yard touchdown drive, a 70-yard touchdown drive, and the game-winning 61-yard field goal drive that included a fourth-and-one conversion by Travis Etienne. Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson perfectly coached a comeback, Staley perfectly coached a collapse.
I know that Staley had the support of a lot of Chargers fans going into the game. He most likely lost that support in the fourth quarter. Without those fans, what will the front office decide to do with Staley on Saturday night and Sunday morning? Staley is 19-16 in two seasons, including 0-1 in the playoffs, to a Jaguars team that barely squeaked into the playoffs, with one of the most talented rosters in the league.
This was the absolutely LAST way that Staley wanted to lose the game.
Joey Bosa’s head
A brutal offsides penalty on Joey Bosa in the third quarter wiped out a sack that took the Jaguars out of field goal range and allowed Jacksonville to score a touchdown moments later. Then Bosa lost his cool, threw his helmet, threw it again, and drew a penalty. That’s really not the biggest issue from Saturday’s game, but it is sort of a microcosm of LA’s meltdown.
As well as the fact that Bosa and Khalil Mack were not quite the fearsome duo that the Chargers needed and generally Staley’s pass rush did not have nearly as good of a night as Pederson’s with Josh Allen and Travon Walker.
Out of position on two touchdowns. James is an elite safety who did not have an elite night.
On the same night that Dicker was good from 50, he also pushed a 40-yarder left that absolutely had to go in. Given the history of the Chargers, it is a wonder if something was in the air on Saturday night that seeped into Dicker’s kick just as he started his backswing. Hence “chargering.”
The Chargers only even managed to score 30 points in large thanks to the first half performance by the defense. LA had 18 first downs (Jacksonville had 24), 320 total yards (Jacksonville: 390), 5.5 yards per pass attempt, and 67 rushing yards (Jacksonville: 117).
You could argue that Lombardi should be fired after these past two seasons, but the “firing” talk will no longer start with the coordinators. Unless it does, I guess, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
Asante Samuel, Jr
Count the ways that Samuel made history on Saturday night. Making his playoff debut, Samuel tied the Chargers CAREER record for postseason interceptions ... before halftime.
Samuel’s three first-half interceptions was the most by a player in a playoff game since Vernon Perry picked off Dan Fouts four times in 1979. They are the only two players to ever intercept more than two passes in a playoff game. And Samuel only came into Saturday with four career interceptions over 29 games.
The 23-year-old Samuel, Jr. is coming off of the best game of his career and he can use this moment to keep getting better next season.
In the regular season, Tranquill proved he could stay healthy for 17 games, finishing with 146 tackles, five sacks, and 10 tackles for a loss. In the playoffs, he got the defense started by picking off Lawrence’s first pass attempt, Tranquill’s second career interception. His first came in Week 1 against the Las Vegas Raiders, so he chose a good time to end his “drought”.
Was talking to Drue Tranquill in the locker room last week, and he was lamenting not getting an INT in the regular season. Gets one on the second play of the playoffs. Tipped by Joey Bosa.— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) January 15, 2023
Popper meant to say “Since Week 1” in that tweet.
Everett has always been a rocket ship of talent, albeit one that often fails to launch because of technical errors, miscues, and mistakes. Not so the case on Saturday as Everett was Justin Herbert’s star weapon against the Jaguars, finishing with six catches for 109 yards and a touchdown.
Austin Ekeler had two touchdowns, but L.A. was never able to actually get the run game going, which goes back to Lombardi and the work done by Jacksonville’s defensive line against the Chargers offensive line. Ekeler had 35 yards on 13 carries for 2.7 yards per carry with two catches for eight yards.
Herbert didn’t have a bad night, finishing 25-of-43 for 273 yards and a touchdown, getting sacked three times. But Herbert was not the issue. Keenan Allen had six catches for 61 yards and it’s always going to be a question, “What could Mike Williams have done?”
Scott had five punts and pinned three of them inside the 20. Unfortunately, the Chargers had to use Scott too many times, especially after an abysmal three-and-out that setup Jacksonville for the game-winning field goal. But hey ... punting!