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Justin Herbert and Chargers lose to Raiders on another final-play heartbreaker

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. tries to haul in a touchdown pass in front of Raiders cornerback Isaiah Johnson.
Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. tries to haul in the game-winning touchdown pass in front of Raiders cornerback Isaiah Johnson at the end of regulation Sunday. The play initially was ruled a catch before the call was reversed on review.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers didn’t blow a big lead this time, only a big chance.

Twice.

In the final six seconds.

And only after a video review rewrote history.

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Having already absorbed so much in their stomach-twisting, mind-scrambling season, the Chargers lost Sunday in their most painful way yet: after celebrating as if they’d won.

Instead, a reversed call on the last play erased an apparent touchdown and gave the Las Vegas Raiders a 31-26 victory at SoFi Stadium.

“I’m still trying to process that, to be honest with you,” running back Kalen Ballage said. “That’s tough. We were geeked up on the sideline, thinking that was it and we did what we had to do to put the game away.

Justin Herbert is a franchise quarterback for the Chargers, but amid a season of constant struggle, the team isn’t doing enough to protect the rookie.

“Out of nowhere — we weren’t even paying attention — we saw them celebrating. We’re like, ‘What? What are you talking about? What’s going on?’ It was kind of hectic.”

The Chargers appeared to win when Justin Herbert connected with Donald Parham Jr. on a four-yard pass in the back corner of the end zone.

But after a booth review, officials changed the call to incomplete because the ball had come loose as Parham fell to the ground.

“I thought it was a touchdown,” coach Anthony Lynn said.

On the previous play, the Chargers also nearly scored. Herbert threw a similar pass in a similar spot to Mike Williams, who had the ball dislodged by Raiders cornerback Isaiah Johnson as both players fell to the ground.

Johnson, a little-used backup forced into the game because of injury, also was the successful defender on the attempt to Parham.

Asked about the outrageous late swing of emotions — that had both teams dancing to a walk-off win — Lynn said, “That’s hard to describe.”

Asked how many gut punches he and his team could withstand, he added: “I don’t want to find out how many we can take. Right now, we’ve been kicked in the gut six times. That’s six times too many for me.”

The Chargers entered Sunday having blown leads of at least 16 points in four consecutive games, an NFL record. They also squandered an 11-point lead in a Week 2 loss to Kansas City.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert tries to pass before he is sacked by the Raiders' Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, center, tries to pass before he is sacked by Las Vegas Raiders defensive ends Maxx Crosby, left, and Clelin Ferrell during the fourth quarter of the Chargers’ 31-26 loss Sunday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

They fell to 2-6 on the season and have dropped nine consecutive games in the AFC West.

“I could talk about this since the second week of the season,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “Just close games, we’re not winning them. That’s just been the story of the season.”

It goes back further than that. Since last year, the Chargers are 3-15 in one-score games. And two wins came when the opposition missed 41- and 31-yard field goals in the final seconds.

So 3-15 could be even worse. Seven of the Chargers’ eight games this season have been decided by a single score. Despite their record, they’ve been outscored by only 11 points.

“We’re all disappointed,” Herbert said. “We’re all obviously hurt by this. There are no magic words that are going to change what’s happened.”

The rookie quarterback had another highlight-filled day on an afternoon when his record as starter fell to 1-6.

Herbert completed 28 of 42 attempts for 326 yards and two touchdowns, one to Allen and the other to fullback Gabe Nabers. Herbert had a 50-yard completion to Tyron Johnson.

The Chargers put a drive together in attempt to beat the Raiders before time ran out, but two dropped passes in the final six seconds cost them a victory.

Taking over at the Chargers’ 25-yard line with 4:37 to go, Herbert led the Chargers on a 15-play, 71-yard drive to the Las Vegas four-yard line, where their fate was determined by consecutive near-misses.

“There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to go down and score,” Lynn said. “Justin’s a playmaker and he doesn’t flinch.”

Said Herbert: “I thought we ran an incredible two-minute drive. We got ourselves in position to score. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t go our way.”

Allen finished with nine catches for 103 yards, his third game of at least 100 yards this season.

Chargers running back Kalen Ballage cuts through the Las Vegas Raiders defense.
Chargers running back Kalen Ballage cuts through the Las Vegas Raiders defense on his way to scoring a touchdown Sunday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Though they didn’t open a double-digit lead Sunday, the Chargers were up 17-14 at halftime.

But by the midway point of the third quarter, they had surrendered a pair of touchdowns, as the Raiders offense proved more efficient than productive.

The Chargers finished with 10 more first downs, 120 more yards and nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession.

All of that, and it still wasn’t enough.

“This isn’t easy for anyone,” Herbert said. “No one’s enjoying this … We’re really close, and that’s probably one of the toughest parts.”

As a freshman at Oregon, Herbert lived through a 4-8 finish. He also played for three different coaches for the Ducks as the program searched for stability.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 31-26 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.

Off to a flying personal start to his professional career, Herbert is experiencing similar struggles to find team success in the NFL.

“It hasn’t gone our way over the past couple of weeks,” he said. “But we’re a tough team, a tough locker room. I believe 100% in all the guys and all the coaching staff we have here.”

Belief will have to be enough because right now, the Chargers don’t have much else.


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