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Brandon Staley says calculated risks got him to L.A. and Chargers in playoff contention

 Chargers head coach Brandon Staley congratulates Justin Herbert.
Brandon Staley, shown congratulating Justin Herbert, says his aggressive approaches are what led to getting the coaching job with the Chargers.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers amassed a season high in rushing yards and matched their second-best total for the season in first downs.

They also scored 28 points against a defense that hadn’t yielded that many in nearly 10 weeks.

But it was the nine points they didn’t score that led to another season-high: criticism of coach Brandon Staley’s fourth-down calls.

Staley was seemingly second-guessed on every available media platform in the aftermath of the Chargers’ 34-28 overtime loss to Kansas City on Thursday. He opted to go for it on five fourth downs and three of those decisions failed.

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Had the Chargers instead converted field goals on those possessions, they would have scored nine points that could have greatly altered the events at SoFi Stadium.

The fact that all this played out in a matchup with enormous playoff implications and in prime time with no other NFL games happening simultaneously only intensified the focus on Staley.

The Chargers had the opportunity to win their biggest game of the season, but coach Brandon Staley’s continued insistence to go on fourth down cost his team the game.

In reality, he was only continuing to employ a philosophy at the foundation of his head coaching beliefs, a philosophy he has not wavered from all season.

From the day he was hired in January, Staley has talked about a desire to be aggressive, to put the game in the hands of young star quarterback Justin Herbert whenever possible and keep the game on his team’s terms.

“What I’m doing is I’m trying to make the decisions that I think are going to win us the game,” Staley reiterated Friday. “I’m ready to live with all the smoke that comes with it.

“I think our fans — the diehards, the powder blues — as they’re getting to know me more and more hopefully and they’re getting to know our team more and more hopefully, getting to see our quarterback more and more hopefully, I think that they’ll fall in love with who we are. I know they will. I know the city of Los Angeles will.”

Staley further explained that he isn’t making his calls based solely on analytics. He said he also is using instinct. He described his decision-making process as “obviously a blend of both.”

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. stayed overnight in the hospital with a concussion after a scary injury and is expected to be discharged Friday.

And here, the situation becomes a bit personal for Staley, who was hired by the Chargers after only four seasons in the NFL and one as a coordinator. Before that, Staley had been a small-college assistant.

“I didn’t make it here by going with the math, OK?” he said. “The math says that I’m a long shot to make it here. The odds are not good. The only reason why I made it here is because of calculation.

“That’s what we’re doing. We’re being calculated on how we play. We are playing to the strength of our football team. … The real football people understand that what I’m doing is playing to the strengths of our football team.”

The Chargers are 15 for 26 on fourth down for the season. Only two teams — Detroit and Washington — have gone for it in such situations more often. The Chargers’ 15 conversions lead the NFL.

After taking the lead late in the fourth quarter, the Chargers couldn’t stop Patrick Mahomes from orchestrating an impressive Chiefs comeback.

Successful fourth-down decisions by Staley have helped the Chargers in victories over, most notably, the Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals.

Staley said that despite losing Thursday he was encouraged because the Chargers competed “at a championship level.”

He said he loved how his players responded after falling behind early 10-0 and after Joshua Kelley fumbled near the goal line in the fourth quarter. He also noted that his team had a successful goal-line stand late in the third quarter.

“As a coach, that’s what you’re looking for,” Staley said. “You’re looking for, ‘Hey, did your team go for it? Did your team play fearless? Were your guys connected?’ I felt like all those things were true.”

Along with the criticism, Staley said he was aware of what else people were saying on the morning after his team’s bitter defeat.

The NFL delayed Sunday’s game between the Rams and Seattle Seahawks at SoFi Stadium to Tuesday because of COVID-19 issues affecting each team.

“I know that right now no one’s saying that the Chargers lost anything,” Staley said. “They’re not saying that we gave anything away. What they’re saying is the Chargers went for it against a championship-caliber team and lost in overtime in a really, really, really big-time environment.”

Derwin James update

Staley said “there was no [additional] damage done” to the hamstring of safety Derwin James Jr. during the game. James was limited to 28 of the Chargers’ 72 defensive snaps because of his hamstring issue.

“I don’t think it’s any worse than it was going into the ball game,” Staley said. “That’s where we kind of shut it down during the game so that it would not worsen. He couldn’t open up on it. It was just kind of grabbing.”

James was questionable for the game and started after completing some early work on the field.

Staley said rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., who also was listed as questionable for the game but didn’t play, remains in concussion protocol.


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