The Chargers Wild Card Game: How They Charger’d A Winnable Game

The Chargers Wild Card was a blowout. Till it wasn't. A look at what went right and what went horribly wrong.

The Los Angeles Chargers Wild Card Loss Photo Credit: Jacksonville Jaguars | Morgan Givens
The Los Angeles Chargers Wild Card Loss Photo Credit: Jacksonville Jaguars | Morgan Givens

The minutes ticked down in the first quarter of the Los Angeles Chargers wild card game. They were up by 27 and Jacksonville hadn’t scored at all. Then Asante Samuel had gotten his third pick of the night against Trevor Lawrence. At that point, I wanted the game to end. I wanted to fast forward all the way to victory formation, where the Chargers had exceeded expectations and blown out the Jags. Because I knew, deep in my gut, this wasn’t going to last.

The Chargers have had trouble scoring in the second half for the majority of their games this year. Sometimes they come out hot in the first half but can’t maintain that fire. And I was right, they “Charger’d” again in the playoffs losing 31 to 30 on a last-second field goal

Let’s take a look at what went right and what went very wrong to contribute to this monumental loss.

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Chargers Wild Card Game Breakdown

The Chargers First-Half Defense Came To Play

The first-half Chargers defense came out aggressive. During the first quarter, Alohi Gilman had a beautiful shoulder first shot to Christian Kirk, dislodging the ball to create an incomplete pass. On a second and 10, Bryce Callahan broke up a pass to Kirk. And in this crazy special teams moment, on a punt return to the Jags, the ball bounced off Chris Claybrooks helmet and Amen Ogbongbemiga was able to recover it.

And then there were the three interceptions from Samuel and the one right out the gate within the first few minutes of the game, where Sebastian Joseph-Day batted the ball, Joey Bosa deflected it, and it ultimately ended up in the hands of Drue Tranquill. Everything was working during that half, and they looked like the defense from the Miami game. Then during the second half it all changed.

Little Things Added Up In The Second Half

Brandon Staley mentioned in his post-game press conference that they didn’t tackle as well in the second half and that there were just little things that added up, and he is right. During the third quarter, Ja’Sir Taylor, who was in for an injured Michael Davis, missed a tackle on Zay Jones that led to a first down. Kirk got to the 47-yard line and a first down with a missed tackle during the fourth quarter.

In terms of the run defense, Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated the Chargers overall at 65.7, and mostly, they did an okay job of containing Travis Etienne, but ultimately they let him win on one of the last big plays that changed everything.

Etienne’s longest run happened in the fourth quarter, on a fourth and one as the Jags were trying to get close enough for field goal position. And instead of running a quarterback sneak or an obvious hand-off like Lawrence seemed like he was going to do, Doug Pederson called a timeout as the snap was made. As the play began again, Lawrence got the ball to Etienne, who went out to the right and up the sideline and got the first down, putting them in position to win the game.

Especially after the timeout, it should’ve been obvious that they were going to do something different than a typical quarterback sneak. But apparently, it wasn’t. The Chargers didn’t change up their game plan, missing a crucial stop.

Then there were the penalties, and the standout ones were on defense. Bosa had an offside penalty during the third quarter that completely negated a sack by Callahan. He also had an unsportsmanlike conduct call in the same quarter, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty. There are shots of him banging his helmet on the ground at one point in frustration, leading to another unsportsmanlike conduct call.

All this culminated in the defense not being able to replicate what they did during the first half. The Jags fired themselves up during halftime, Lawrence didn’t throw any more picks, and while the Jags found their groove, the Chargers fell apart. And it didn’t help that the offense couldn’t get anything going in that second half either.

The Receivers Tried To Make It Work

A lot of credit should be given to Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, and Keenan Allen. They really showed up in this game, especially without Mike Williams to make those dynamic plays. Everett in particular had his most receiving yards of the season at 109, and he was everywhere Herbert needed him to be. During the first quarter, Herbert had this amazing sidearm throw to Everett, where he took off to the 35-yard line. And Everett got another touchdown, adding to his season-wide total. He was definitely more of the WR2 for Herbert than Josh Palmer was and it showed.

Allen was his old reliable self, contributing to a few first downs and nice catches, but there were a few passes where he and Herbert just couldn’t get in sync, including one in the red zone during the second quarter when the ball sailed over his head, and they had to settle for a field goal. It’s been great to have Parham back on the field. He caught four receptions and had 23 receiving yards. Like Allen, he’s always a reliable target and can also help with pass blocking.

Justin Herbert Played More Conservatively

Herbert attempted five throws of 20-plus yards this game, and maybe that was partly to get the ball off quicker, but also that may be because they were without Williams, who’s really good at making those big-time catches.

In general, Herbert was playing a bit more conservatively, as the majority of his pass attempts, 20 of them, were short, consisting of zero to nine yards. He was playing more of Lawrence’s game, who also attempted more short passes (27) than he did ones of 20 plus yards (three).

I understand why Herbert would be making these shorter throws, especially considering he had fewer receivers than when he started the game, as DeAndre Carter went out with an ankle injury, but Herbert is known for deep throws, and that element disappeared in this game performance.

The Left Tackle Injury Didn’t Help The Offensive Line

In the second quarter, Jamaree Salyer got hurt and Foster Sarell came in at left tackle. Though Salyer came back in, he eventually exited again. Sarell did pretty well during this game, as he did have a pass-blocking grade of 71.3, which was only a little lower than Salyer’s, but he’s not as reliable as Salyer.

During the third quarter, Herbert wasn’t able to complete a pass when Sarell couldn’t stop the rush from Arden Key. And at the start of the fourth quarter, Sarell had a false start penalty. The Jags definitely turned up the pressure on Herbert in that second half. And as more pressure was coming on Herbert, he was sacked again in the fourth quarter. These are the times when Rashwan Slater is really missed, and when having an offensive line composed of a lot of rookies doesn’t work well.

The Run Game Was Off The Whole Night

Despite Austin Ekeler‘s two rushing touchdowns, the Jags kept him to only 35 rushing yards and Joshua Kelley only had 16. Each rushing play the Chargers tried last night, resulted in their running backs being brought down fairly quickly, which has been characteristic of this entire season.

So Who’s Out For The Coaches?

Before last night and before the Broncos game fiasco, where a bunch of starters played way too long, contributing to Williams fracturing his back, I would have said that Staley would be coaching this team next year. But after this loss and the injury to Williams, I’m really torn in terms of if he’ll get another season.

Another person that may be on the chopping block is Joe Lombardi, whose conservative play-calling definitely does not suit Herbert’s strengths or the strengths of this offense. Renaldo Hill and Ryan Ficken may both be safe. They have both turned around their respective defensive and special teams units for the better.

Staley is a key piece of this defensive turnaround as well, so that may be his saving grace, but this loss was embarrassing and shouldn’t have happened. When fully healthy, the Chargers have all the pieces to be a Super Bowl-caliber team, but they desperately need the right people to bring out the best in them. Staley and Lombardi do not seem to be those people anymore.

The Los Angeles Chargers Wild Card Loss Photo Credit: Jacksonville Jaguars | Morgan Givens
The Los Angeles Chargers Wild Card Loss Photo Credit: Jacksonville Jaguars | Morgan Givens