Playoff-less Chargers had no issues with coach Brandon Staley’s decisions
In mid-December, the Chargers were 8-5 and playing at home for first place in the AFC West.
Not even four weeks later, they were meeting with the media on the first day of an offseason that arrived so suddenly it was jarring.
Asked if he were surprised the Chargers missed the playoffs, Justin Jones answered, “100%”
“We were playing at a high level,” the defensive tackle continued. “We have guys who deserve to be in the tournament. We have guys who deserve to play their best ball in front of the world and show them, ‘Hey, the Chargers are for real.’
“We showcased that [Sunday]. Obviously, it didn’t turn out in our favor. But we’ve got some real ballplayers on this team, like some true ballplayers. I stand on that.”
The Chargers failed to make the playoffs because of a dramatic overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. Here are some observations from the 35-32 loss.
Daniel Carlson’s 47-yard field goal as time expired booted the Chargers aside and ended an epically emotional and theatrical game.
The Chargers trailed 10-0 early, took the lead in the second quarter and then faced a 29-14 deficit with under five minutes to go in regulation.
Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert led two scoring drives — converting five fourth downs en route — and passed for two touchdowns and a two-point conversion to force overtime.
And the drama was only starting to build. After both teams kicked field goals on their first overtime possessions, the Raiders moved to the Chargers’ 45-yard line and had a first down with two minutes to go.
With a tie, both teams would advance to the playoffs, meaning Las Vegas didn’t necessarily have to try to score.
Justin Herbert did everything he could to get the Chargers into the playoffs but it wasn’t enough to overcome a determined Raiders team and its fans.
After Linval Joseph stuffed Raiders running back Josh Jacobs for a one-yard loss, neither team stopped the clock. The Raiders ran the ball again, with Jacobs gaining seven yards.
The clock continued to run as Las Vegas began lining up for its next offensive play. With 38 seconds remaining, Chargers coach Brandon Staley called time because, anticipating another run, he wanted to beef up his defensive front.
Facing third and four, the Raiders did keep the ball on the ground but Jacobs broke free for a 10-yard gain, putting Las Vegas well within Carlson’s range.
Afterward, a camera caught Chargers running back Austin Ekeler talking to Raiders’ long snapper Trent Sieg. They are good friends who played high school football together in Colorado.
On Monday, Ekeler said their conversation included Sieg telling him that Las Vegas was considering running out the clock before Jacobs ripped off his final run.
“That’s what they were allegedly thinking,” Ekeler said, smiling. “You know, the long snapper isn’t the offensive coordinator over there. I’m not sure where he is on the hierarchy of calling plays and making those types of decisions. But I don’t think it’s very high.”
Either way, the Chargers lost when their run defense — suspect throughout the season — failed to prevent the Raiders from advancing into field-goal range with three consecutive running plays.
It was even more fitting that the final one came on third down. The Chargers finished the season as the NFL’s worst third-down defense, allowing the opposition to convert 49.5% of the time.
Pro Bowl edge rusher Joey Bosa on Monday called the loss “a huge devastation.” He also said he was encouraged about the future under Staley, who just finished his first season as a head coach at any level.
But Bosa didn’t dismiss one of the glaring problems the Chargers now need to address.
“There were some issues in the run game that we’re going to have to figure out coming into next year,” he said. “We let too many people run on us.”
Staley faced a day of rampant public second-guessing regarding a fourth-down decision that failed in the third quarter Sunday. He also was criticized for the timeout late in overtime.
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Among his players, however, Staley received nothing but public support.
“Whatever he decides is best for us, we’re going with it because we know he has our best interests at heart,” Jones said. “That’s the biggest thing for us. So we’re on board.”
The Chargers finished the game six of seven on fourth down. For the season, they were 22 of 34 for 64.7%, which tied with New England for fourth in the NFL.
Only two teams — Detroit and Chicago — went for it more often on fourth down than the Chargers did. Their 22 conversions led the league.
“We support all his decisions,” Pro Bowl safety Derwin James said of Staley. “Whatever Coach is going to do, we’re gonna ride with him.”
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