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News Analysis: Chargers will be eager to forget Jaguars’ unforgettable playoff comeback

Trevor Lawrence (16) lunges for a two-point conversion to move the Jaguars to within two points of the Chargers.
Trevor Lawrence (16) lunges for a two-point conversion to move the Jaguars to within two points of the Chargers and set up the deciding drive.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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The Chargers put on an unforgettable performance Saturday night.

That’s right, try as they might, they’ll never be able to wash away this memory.

In one game that really should have counted as two, they followed a near-perfect first half with a near-historic collapse.

They saw a 27-point lead float off into the frigid Florida air, and staggered off the field after a 31-30 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars to the chant of “Duuuval,” a haunting refrain in reference to the local county that surely echoed in their heads all the way back to the West Coast.

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Chargers coach Brandon Staley already was under heavy scrutiny for playing his starters deep into a meaningless finale at Denver, a move that cost the team star receiver Mike Williams. Some have reported that Staley’s job is in jeopardy, and his team’s performance in the wild-card game was going to be instructive as to the organization’s plans for the future.

The Chargers held a 27-point lead but played a horrible second half and lost their wild-card playoff game on a last-second field goal, 31-30, to the Jaguars

Jan. 14, 2023

Surely, more will be revealed in the coming days.

“I’m hurting for everybody in that locker room,” Staley said. “It’s a special group of guys. This is the toughest way to lose, in the playoffs.”

It’s hard to defend what transpired on this unseasonably cold night, when the visitors almost looked like helpless bystanders as the Jaguars went from doom to destiny, chipping away at a 27-0 deficit while the Chargers could muster no more than a field goal in the second half.

“You couldn’t write a crazier script,” said Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who followed four interceptions with four touchdown passes.

“I knew it was going to take a lot to turn it around. But I told the guys in the huddle, ‘There’s no 27-point plays. It’s going to be one play at a time.’ That’s what it took. One play at a time, all the way down the field. Just again and again and again.

“All we can do at this point is just try to score every drive.”

Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (26) celebrates his interception with safety Derwin James Jr.
Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (26) celebrates one of his three interceptions in the first half with safety Derwin James Jr.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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From the end of the first half, the Jaguars’ last five drives ended: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal.

The Chargers’ last six drives ended: punt, end of half, punt, field goal, missed field goal, punt.

Late in the first half, Lawrence had a Blutarsky-like passer rating of 0.0, and Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. had three interceptions.

According to ESPN, Samuel is the first player to have three interceptions in the first half of a playoff game, and Lawrence was the first quarterback in the postseason to be picked off three times in the opening quarter.

Then again, who cares?

Chargers rookie Asante Samuel Jr. grew up watching his dad play in the NFL, but father and son have harbored a contentious and complex relationship.

Sept. 11, 2021

Those are merely footnotes when it comes to the Jaw-dropper in Jacksonville. The bottom line is, the Jaguars are moving on — probably to face Kansas City — and the Chargers are left to sift through the rubble of another collapse, the third biggest in NFL postseason history.

It seems that 38-10 win by Jacksonville at SoFi Stadium in Week 3 was no fluke, even though the Chargers seemingly flipped the script in this one.

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“We worked so hard to get here,” said Lawrence, whose team finished the regular season with a five-game winning streak after having lost five in a row earlier in the season.

“We talked about it all week: ‘Let’s not miss this opportunity.’ And it was close — we were close to letting it slip. Just to see the guys stay in here and fight, keep battling. Didn’t matter what the score was. That’s why we had a chance to win it.”

It really is unbelievable — yet somehow on brand — that the Chargers allowed this one to slip through their fingers.

Sam Farmer breaks down the matchups and predicts winners for the first six NFL playoff games during wild-card weekend.

Jan. 12, 2023

Meanwhile, two short-yardage plays will be forever frozen in the memories of the Jaguars and their fans.

The 6-foot-6 Lawrence jutting his right arm across the goal line for a two-point conversion that put his team in position to win the game with a field goal. The Jaguars moved to the one-yard line on the play after a frustrated Joey Bosa, who frequently complained of being held by Jacksonville blockers, took off his helmet and slammed it to the turf in frustration following a touchdown. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Jaguars running back Travis Etienne running around the edge for 25 yards on a fourth and one on the winning drive. His team was in a sneak formation but got the ball to him on the outside for a huge gain. That set up the clinching 36-yard field goal.

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The first half was as thorough a throttling as we’ve seen in a long time. The Chargers were on their way to the organization’s biggest blowout victory in the playoffs since a 51-10 thrashing of the Boston Patriots in 1963.

Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1) sprints past the Chargers defense on fourth down to set up the deciding score.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Jaguars had five turnovers in the first half, three of those inside their 20-yard line.

The once-raucous crowd was silent.

The game was a goner. Except that anyone familiar with the history of the Chargers and their ability to fritter away leads had to know it was far from over.

“We’re going to learn a lot from this,” Staley said.

Perhaps. But they might prefer to forget more.

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