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Column: Brandon Staley must take blame for Chargers loss. Kick the field goals!

Inglewood, CA, Thursday, December 16, 2021 - Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley watches from the sideline during a 34-28 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at SoFi Stadium on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Thirty yards from the end zone, Travis Kelce caught the ball and began weaving and curling and …

Are the Chargers really going to blow this?

Kelce broke one tackle, then another, then slid through five defenders and …

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Seriously, can the Chargers possibly blow this?

Kelce sprinted into the end zone and was followed by an entire Kansas City Chiefs team dancing and screaming and ...

The Chargers really did blow this!

The Los Angeles Chargers fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime 34-28, but concerns about Donald Parham Jr.'s well-being overshadowed the loss.

The stats will say that the 34-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Kelce on the first series of overtime earned the Chiefs a 34-28 victory Thursday night at SoFi Stadium in this monumental battle of AFC West contenders.

But read between the lines.

The Chargers gave it to them.

In his team’s biggest game since moving to Los Angeles five years ago, the Chargers’ rookie coach Brandon Staley failed to properly use a dagger when he had one, and wound up bloodied by his own hand.

The Chargers lost because Staley fumbled analytics, ignored common sense and abandoned the scoreboard in a game against a powerful offense where every point counted.

Three times, the Chargers faced fourth down in clear field-goal range.

Three times, Staley instead went for the first down.

Three times, the Chargers failed, nine points become zero points become a lost opportunity in what could have been their biggest moment since moving to L.A.

“I love the way we managed this game,” Staley said afterward.

Well, at least somebody did.

“I feel good about our team,” said receiver Keenan Allen. “I know we lost the game but … a couple of moments, a couple of plays.”

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce catches a touchdown pass against the Chargers.
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce catches a touchdown pass against the Chargers. The Chargers failed to score on a few their red-zone opportunities.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The growing swell of increasingly loud Chargers fans might not feel so good. Those moments were avoidable. Those plays didn’t have to happen.

This was their team’s chance to take the division lead and take the first step to being the first Los Angeles team to host a playoff game at SoFi … and yet they let the Chiefs off the hook.

They began the game by failing to score while just five yards from the end zone.

They ended the first half by, once again, failing to score while just five yards from the end zone.

In the third quarter, they turned down yet another scoring chance on the Chiefs’ 28-yard line.

“It didn’t go down for us today, but we gave ourselves an opportunity,” said Staley.

Yet three times, he snatched that opportunity away.

The game began with a chill. On the sixth play, tight end Donald Parham Jr. lost consciousness after hitting his head on the turf after briefly catching a ball in the end zone.

The Chargers lost to the AFC West-rival Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. Here’s a photographic recap of the game.

Parham Jr. was still seemingly unconscious as medical personnel wheeled him from the field, his eyes closed as his arms uncontrollably twitched. The Chargers later announced that Parham Jr. was in stable condition while undergoing tests at UCLA Harbor Medical Center.

Both teams and the crowd fell into a hush, and thoughts were with Parham Jr. the rest of the game.

Otherwise, the Chargers dominated the narrative and seemingly could have controlled the outcome. But Staley couldn’t control his trademark propensity to gamble.

“That’s going to be the mindset no matter who we play,” said Staley. “I really felt comfortable with all those decisions.”

The questionable choices began at the end of the game’s first drive, when the Chargers faced fourth and goal from the five-yard line.

Kick the field goal? Kick the field goal!

Nope, they tried to score and Parham Jr. dropped the ball after suffering his frightening fall. Eleven plays later, the Chiefs had driven the ball 95 yards to score on Michael Burton’s seven-yard touchdown run and take a 7-0 lead.

Incidentally, Chargers kicker Dustin Hopkins, who was acquired from the Washington Football Team in the middle of the season, has missed just one of 13 field-goal attempts and is perfect inside the 50-yard line.

Error, Staley.

“That’s the way we’re gonna play around here,” said Staley. “When we have a quarterback like ours and an offense like ours, that’s the way we’re going to play.”

Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill recovers a fumble by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the second quarter.
Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill recovers a fumble by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the second quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Fast forward to the last drive of the first half, set up by a strip-sack by Joey Bosa on Mahomes that Drue Tranquill recovered around midfield.

Highlighted by a leaping catch by Mike Williams of a 27-yard pass, the Chargers moved to the Chiefs’ one-yard line with two seconds remaining in the half.

Kick the field goal? Kick the field goal!

Nope, once again, the Chargers played the analytics game and went for it. And once again, they failed, Daniel Sorensen batting down Herbert’s pass to end the half.

Error, Staley.

“That’s how you need to play against Kansas City, for sure,” said Staley.

But is it? The Chargers led 14-10 at the half, but they should have led 20-10.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 34-28 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at SoFi Stadium on Thursday — scoring and statistics.

Fast forward to midway through the third quarter, the Chargers leading by a point and facing fourth and two from the Kansas City 28.

Kick the field goal? Kick the field goal!

For the third time, nope, they went for it, and Herbert’s pass to Jared Cook was broken up by Nick Bolton and the score remained the same.

Error, Staley.

“That’s how we’re going to become the team that we’re ultimately capable of being, by playing that way,” said Staley.

Now don’t get it twisted. Staley is a bright young coach who commands the locker room with equal parts toughness and wisdom. So far in his first season he has been the perfect leader for a Chargers renaissance that has resulted in legitimate Chargers crowds and concrete Chargers hopes.

This is a playoff team. This is a big-dreams team. This is Staley’s team.

If only he would occasionally take the damn field goal ...


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