For nearly 30 minutes, the Los Angeles Chargers played a perfect football game. They intercepted Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence four times in the first half, and three of them went to Asante Samuel Jr. They took a 27-0 lead and seemed to move the ball at will.
No one is going to remember any of it. They will remember what happened over the next 31 minutes and 9 seconds of a game that will be talked about for years. It was an historic collapse if you are the Chargers or a monumental comeback if you are the Jaguars.
Riley Patterson made a 36-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jaguars the win, 31-30, and ended the Chargers’ season. It was the third largest comeback in NFL postseason history.
Brandon Staley’s defense came out to play in the first half. On the second play of the game Sebastian Joseph-Day and Joey Bosa tipped up a pass that ended up in Drue Tranquill’s hands for the interception.
Austin Ekeler would turn that Jaguars mistake into a quick seven points. Lawrence then threw three interceptions and a special teams turnover which the Chargers turned into 20 more points.
Right before halftime, up 27-0, Lawrence led a drive up the field that ended in a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Engram.
“Anytime you’re up 27-7 at halftime, and you’ve got four takeaways, and you end up winning the takeaway margin 4-0, it’s going to be a killer,” Staley said. “I’m hurting for everybody in that locker room. It’s a special group of guys. This is the toughest way that you can lose in the playoffs.”
The second half has not been a particularly strong area for the Chargers offensively or even defensively this season. They have struggled to make second-half adjustments and have lost some games in the period.
They had a streak of ten weeks in which their offense couldn’t score a touchdown in the third quarter until they did against the Indianapolis Colts, but tonight they couldn’t do it.
They have struggled for most of the season to establish a consistent run game that can put teams away or help take the ease off of quarterback Justin Herbert. On Saturday night, the Chargers ran the ball 23 times for 67 yards, yes it had two Austin Ekeler touchdowns, but that was in the first quarter.
It hurt them again on Saturday.
“Obviously, a tough go for us,” Herbert said. “As an offense, we need to do more in the second half. That falls on us offensively, and as a quarterback, I need to perform better. You got to be able to put up more than three points in the second half.”
Herbert did as much as possible with what he had to work within the game. Receiver Keenan Allen was double-teamed most of the night while Josh palmer caught two passes, DeAndre Carter was hurt, and Michael Bandy didn’t register a catch.
Tight end Gerald Everett did step up when needed catching six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, which was his best performance as a Charger.
On the defensive side, they couldn’t contain the Jaguars’ offense in the second half and seemed to make no adjustments to combat them.
Doug Pederson’s offense took the ball in the second half and played keep away while scoring touchdowns. Lawrence was able to get comfortable and let loose. He completed 78% of his passes, threw for 211 yards and three touchdowns.
“We just didn’t play clean enough football in the second half in all three phases,” Staley said. “We didn’t score the ball or possess it well enough on defense. We had far too many penalties in the second half that really hurt us, and didn’t play well enough in the red area.”
The Chargers also got in their own way. Cornerback Michael Davis was hit in the back by friendly fire in Kenneth Murray and didn’t return.
On the Jaguars’ second-to-last drive, Khalil Mack sacked Lawrence to make it a 2nd and 19 from their 21-yard line. Next play, cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor commits a pass interference call that costs them a first down.
At the end of that drive, Joey Bosa received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for slamming his helmet on the ground in frustration because before Lawrence completed a nine-yard touchdown to Christian Kirk he thought he was held. He had already been called for a similar penalty earlier for mouthing off at an official.
“I think he was frustrated,” Staley said about Bosa. “I think he felt like there were a bunch of things that kind of accumulated throughout the game, and try to talk through with the officials. But we can’t lose our composure like that. We need to make sure that we stay on the high side of things. And we can’t hurt the team that way.”
It was what happened in the last 31:09 that matters. It leaves the Chargers with numerous questions about the future of the organization. The Spanos Family will not be happy with what transpired in Jacksonville, but what will they do about it?
The next few days should be interesting, but what the Chargers did on Saturday caught up to them from the regular season.
Now they will sit and think of “What if’s” as Lawrence and the Jaguars continue in the playoffs.
“It’s really tough because we think really highly of our team and that’s a special group of guys in that locker room,” Herbert said. “They deserve better and it didn’t go our way and that’s the unfortunate part.”