Justin Herbert and Chargers can’t capitalize on chances late in loss to Bills

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen scores a touchdown ahead of Chargers cornerback Michael Davis.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen lunges for the end zone and scores a touchdown ahead of Chargers cornerback Michael Davis during the second half of a 27-17 loss Sunday.
(Jeffrey T. Barnes / Associated Press)
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The Chargers never had a lead to blow Sunday, yet they still failed dramatically in the fourth quarter.

Unable to capitalize on opportunities and incapable of managing the closing seconds, they crumbled in a smoldering heap, losing 27-17 to the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Defensively, the Chargers produced three turnovers in the span of seven Bills snaps starting early in the final quarter.


Nick Vigil caused a fumble that Nasir Adderley recovered. Joey Bosa fell on another fumble. Michael Davis intercepted a Josh Allen pass as the Bills quarterback was pressured.

All those opportunities, however, became only three points as the Chargers’ offense couldn’t complete a comeback from what had been an 18-point, third-quarter deficit.

The other two turnovers were frittered away with a three-and-out series and an interception by rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.

As COVID-19 cases continue to escalate, NFL play is being affected, starting with the Broncos not having a quarterback to and the 49ers not having any place to practice or hold games.

Nov. 29, 2020

“As a team, it wasn’t good enough,” Herbert said. “We didn’t win … I think offensively, we underperformed … It’s on us. It’s on the offense.”

Trailing by 10 and facing extreme desperation, the Chargers bumbled away what little chance they had remaining in final minute.

Facing fourth and 27 near midfield, Herbert lofted a Hail Mary that Tyron Johnson caught before being tackled at the Buffalo two-yard line.


With no timeouts and less than 30 seconds left, the Chargers rushed to the line and — rather than spike the ball to stop the clock — inexplicably attempted a running play, with Austin Ekeler gaining one yard.

The clock continued to run before Herbert fired a pass into the turf near the feet of Mike Williams at the goal line.

By the time the Chargers finally were able to halt the clock, six seconds remained.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert passes against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
(Adrian Kraus / Associated Press)

“Completely miscommunication there,” coach Anthony Lynn explained of the running play call. “Completely. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Herbert then attempted to throw to Williams in the end zone, the pass sailing over his head.

That left three seconds, at which point the Chargers’ field-goal team trotted onto the field before being called back.


Joey Bosa had a career-high three sacks against the Buffalo Bills, but the team’s eighth loss of the season left him wanting more.

Nov. 29, 2020

Afterward, Lynn said that had there been four or more seconds remaining, the Chargers were going to kick a field goal and then try an onside kick and, if they recovered, another Hail Mary. He said three seconds did not give them enough time.

The Chargers’ last chance ended with Herbert getting stuffed for no gain.

The chaos in the closing seconds was glaring in the context of a season in which the Chargers repeatedly have failed to hold leads and close games.

Dating to last season, they are 4-16 in one-possession decisions and have lost this year after holding advantages of 21, 17, 17 and 11 points.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler runs ahead of Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler runs ahead of Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson during the first half Sunday.
(Adrian Kraus / Associated Press)

There also have been numerous examples of questionable game management as the team has fallen to 3-8 and into last place in the AFC West.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Lynn answered when asked if managing the clock has been an issue. “I would sit down and talk you through every one of our decisions. I’m not saying that it’s been perfect, at all.”


At the end of the first half Sunday, the Chargers gave up on a possession inside Buffalo territory after wavering on what to do and permitting time to tick away.

A Herbert completion to Keenan Allen moved the ball to the Chargers’ 45-yard line with 56 seconds remaining and the clock running.

Jared Goff draws the ire of coach Sean McVay after committing three turnovers as the Rams lose 23-20 to the 49ers on a last-second field goal.

Nov. 29, 2020

With two timeouts left, the Chargers opted to hurry to the line of scrimmage. Herbert then passed to Ekeler for a seven-yard gain to the Bills’ 48, where they faced fourth and two.

They again didn’t call time out initially. The Chargers instead let 17 seconds tick away before deciding to stop the clock.

Then they punted.

“I was actually going to go for it right there,” Lynn said. “I thought it was a little closer, but it was a full fourth and two. I didn’t like the defense they came out in. I changed my mind.”

Chargers running back Josh Kelley dives into the end zone for a touchdown.
Chargers running back Josh Kelley dives into the end zone for a touchdown against the Bills in the fourth quarter Sunday.
(Jeffrey T. Barnes / Associated Press)

The apparent indecision and admitted miscommunication against the Bills brought more scrutiny to a coaching staff already confronted with almost weekly questions about game-day maneuvers.

Following the loss, defensive end Joey Bosa was asked about his confidence in the Chargers’ coaches.

“All those calls are above me,” he said. “I don’t have an opinion on any of those. … That’s up to them what they decide.”

After a brief pause, he added: “I have confidence in my coaches. I don’t really like that question. So I’m not really going to answer it.”

And so went another lost Sunday for the Chargers. On an afternoon when the offense sputtered, Herbert ended up throwing a season-high 52 times, completing 31 for 316 yards.

He threw for one touchdown — a five-yarder to Allen — and one interception. Herbert had passed for multiple scores in seven consecutive games, an NFL rookie record.


Despite his production, he is 2-8 as a starter.

“People are upset,” Herbert said of the locker room. “Losing’s tough.”

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 27-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday.

Nov. 29, 2020