JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Seven months in the past, on a quiet offseason day in early June, I used to be sitting on a sofa in Brandon Staley’s workplace on the Chargers facility in Orange County. I used to be there to interview the top coach about fourth-down decision-making and analytics, however early on within the dialog, Staley’s phrases drifted to one thing broader, one thing extra deep-seated — one thing which may appear intangible however has left actual, everlasting wounds for anybody related to this franchise.
“The historical past of this staff after I obtained right here, it was like, somebody’s going to get damage, they will blow a lead, one thing catastrophic goes to occur,” Staley stated then. “There’s this Chargering, and there is all these exterior elements that I do know in my life, they’re simply all excuses. They’re simply all apologies. And so, all proper, nicely, how do you alter that? Properly, it’s a must to do issues completely different. You must have a unique strategy.”
Staley has tried his hardest to eradicate the black cloud — “Chargering” — that hangs over this group. He has tried to take that completely different strategy. In 2021, he employed an extra analytics staffer and leaned into extra aggressive math-based decision-making, making an attempt to ascertain a killer mindset amongst his gamers in his first 12 months on the job. He introduced in a brand new director of sports activities efficiency and carried out a extra forward-thinking course of for restoration and damage upkeep, like a compulsory activation interval firstly of practices to permit gamers further time to roll out their muscle mass and stretch individually. Staley has been refreshingly candid and open with the media, revealing the kind of schematic particulars few, if any, NFL coaches are keen to share.
And but, regardless of Staley’s greatest efforts to be completely different, the Chargers 2022 season resulted in viciously acquainted trend. Somebody obtained damage. The Chargers blew a lead. And one thing catastrophic occurred.
The Chargers fell to the Jaguars, 31-30, on Saturday night time at TIAA Financial institution Stadium within the wild-card spherical of the playoffs. They led 27-0 within the first half. They carried a 27-7 into halftime. They gained the turnover margin 5-0.
They nonetheless misplaced.
Frankly, catastrophic doesn’t even really feel like a robust sufficient phrase for what occurred Saturday night time.
Since 2000, groups who gained the turnover margin by 5 or extra had been 142-4-1 heading into this sport, in keeping with TruMedia. The Chargers at the moment are the fifth staff to lose, becoming a member of the 2000 and 2010 Browns, the 2012 Cardinals and the 2007 Buffalo Payments.
“You may solely preach a lot,” stated tight finish Gerald Everett, who led the Chargers with 109 receiving yards on six receptions. “It simply comes right down to what you truly do within the second and what you do not enable within the second.”
Staley tried to fly full velocity by way of that black cloud at 500 mph. It cut up, however solely briefly. The cloud re-coalesced, larger and darker and much more ominous, raining down acid on the hopes and desires for one thing higher, one thing extra.
I do not know if Chargering is actual, nevertheless it rattling positive felt actual Saturday night time.
“We choked,” edge rusher Kyle Van Noy stated.
This debacle tops all of them. It was the Chargers’ greatest blown lead in franchise historical past, in keeping with Professional Soccer Reference — 27 factors.
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How did it occur?
Properly, it began late within the first half. The Chargers led 27-0 once they obtained the ball again at their very own 18-yard line with 3:11 left within the second quarter. Quarterback Justin Herbert’s first-down cross was overwhelmed on the line. On second down, Herbert responded with a completion to receiver Keenan Allen, who made a diving catch on a well-placed throw. That introduced up a third-and-1.
Herbert stated after the sport that offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi referred to as an inside run with a “kill” in-built for this third down. The kill, or audible, was a jet sweep finish round. All week, the Chargers had been working towards that jet sweep play with receiver DeAndre Carter because the handoff man, in keeping with Herbert. Carter was already filling in for Mike Williams, who suffered a again fracture within the Chargers’ meaningless Week 18 loss on the Broncos. At this stage of the second quarter, although, Carter was out of the sport with an ankle damage, so Michael Bandy, a former undrafted free agent who began the season on the follow squad, was in at Carter’s spot.
Herbert obtained to the road and noticed a Jaguars entrance aligned to cease an inside run. Primarily based on this look, Herbert killed the preliminary play, checking to the jet sweep. Herbert took the snap and turned at hand off to Bandy, who was working in movement from proper to left. Bandy was not even searching for a handoff. He was not conscious of the kill, Herbert stated. They fumbled the alternate. Bandy recovered, however the Chargers had been pressured to punt. And Trevor Lawrence engineered a 53-yard landing drive on the following possession to place the Jaguars on the scoreboard heading into the break.
“I may have carried out a greater job of going to him and telling him precisely what we would have liked to do,” Herbert stated.
However this was not Herbert’s fault.
The jet sweep handoff name from Lombardi was an asinine choice within the first place, even when Carter had been within the sport. The Chargers have run 4 jet sweeps to Carter this season. He has gained a mixed -21 yards — be aware the destructive check in entrance of that quantity — on these 4 touches.
Past that, Bandy taking part in significant snaps in a playoff sport is an indictment of this complete group. Bandy earned his follow squad spot with a high quality coaching camp. And my intention is to not pile on a hard-working participant who has made some significant contributions this season. However a staff attempting to win a Tremendous Bowl has to do higher. Williams would have been on the sector if Staley had simply rested his starters in Week 18. And normal supervisor Tom Telesco ought to have added extra receiving expertise this previous offseason. Maybe a velocity risk who, you recognize, may thrive in that sort of lateral speeding idea.
This was the pivot level within the sport. And it unraveled within the second half. The Chargers had a 20-point lead and will have been capable of run the clock out offensively. They mustered simply 7 speeding yards on seven designed carries over the ultimate two quarters. That’s not a typo. Seven.
The Chargers didn’t path on this sport till Riley Patterson’s 36-yard area objective sailed by way of the uprights as time expired, they usually had 55 speeding yards on 20 designed carries within the sport. Blame the blocking. Blame the working backs. Blame Lombardi and his offensive employees. Blame Staley. Blame everybody.
The Chargers had a transparent path to profitable this sport. Staley has all the time maintained that he desires to be a bodily “line of scrimmage staff.” Once they wanted to be that staff essentially the most, they failed. Epically.
“Definitely when you’ve gotten that sort of lead, should you can possess the ball successfully sufficient, then there will not be sufficient time (for a comeback),” Staley stated. “And we simply did not try this.”
The protection had flummoxed Lawrence within the first half with disguised coverages and blitzes. Jaguars coach Doug Pederson adjusted within the second half and upped the tempo for his offense. The Chargers weren’t ready for the wrinkle, and Staley’s unit fell flat.
The Jags ran 15 no-huddle performs within the sport, in keeping with TruMedia. Twelve of these got here within the second half. On these 12, the Jaguars averaged 10.5 yards per play. Lawrence had three passes of 20 or extra yards within the second half. All of them got here out of no-huddle snaps, together with Zay Jones’ 39-yard landing that minimize the Chargers’ result in 30-20 within the third quarter. That was a busted protection, and Jones ran broad open into the top zone. The Chargers scored their solely factors of the second half on a Cameron Dicker 50-yard area objective on the earlier possession.
“We obtained to be higher in tempo conditions,” linebacker Drue Tranquill stated. “We obtained to be in higher conditioning, all throughout the board.”
The Chargers dedicated a collection of devastating defensive penalties within the second half.
Joey Bosa was flagged for lining up within the impartial zone on a 3rd down within the third quarter, negating a Bryce Callahan sack. The Jaguars scored a landing on that drive to chop the Chargers’ result in 27-14. Bosa was additionally referred to as for 2 unsportsmanlike penalties, one for complaining to officers and the opposite for slamming his helmet close to the Chargers sideline after what he appeared to view as one other missed name within the fourth quarter. The second unsportsmanlike moved the Jaguars’ two-point try from 2-yard line to the 1 yard, and Lawrence transformed on a sneak to make it 30-28.
“We won’t lose our composition like that,” Staley stated.
“I am not going to talk my thoughts and get fined greater than I already am,” Bosa stated within the locker room after the loss.
Rookie cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor—taking part in instead of the injured Michael Davis—dedicated a cross interference penalty on a second-and-19 within the fourth quarter that gave the Jaguars a contemporary set of downs. The Jaguars scored a landing and transformed that two-point sneak late within the drive. Dicker had missed a 40-yard area objective—simply his second missed kick of the season—to present the Jaguars the ball for that possession. The Chargers confronted a fourth-and-3 on Dicker’s try, however Staley opted to not go for it in a continued deviation from his 2021 course of.
Davis suffered a pectoral damage within the third quarter and needed to depart the sport. Taylor has a future on this league, however he’s nonetheless younger, and he made some important errors down the stretch of this sport.
“We had far too many penalties within the second half that basically damage us,” Staley stated.
After which, with the sport within the stability, the Chargers, nicely, Chargered, within the two-minute drill. The Jaguars confronted a fourth-and-1 from the Los Angeles 41-yard line. Pederson schemed up a run to working again Travis Etienne Jr. that obtained him one-on-one on the sting towards Asante Samuel Jr., who had three interceptions within the sport. Etienne beat Samuel to the sting and arrange Patterson’s profitable area objective.
Perimeter run protection has been a difficulty for the Chargers all season. And that problem popped up once more within the greatest second of the sport.
“Twenty-two years of taking part in soccer in my life,” security Derwin James Jr. stated. “This one most likely hurts essentially the most.”
Within the locker room after the loss, Herbert sat at his locker, nonetheless in full uniform, staring straight forward. The ache was evident within the vacancy of his gaze. Teammates round him obtained again from the showers, dressed and packed their baggage. As Van Noy was on his approach out of the locker room, he stopped at Herbert’s locker, gave him an extended embrace and murmured a number of phrases into his ear.
The hug ended, and Herbert nodded to Van Noy. Then he sat again down. Staring. Eager for one thing higher, one thing extra.
He was nonetheless sporting his black cleats. All of the Chargers had worn black cleats for this sport.
Towards the top of a staff assembly on Wednesday, in keeping with gamers, Staley had proven an image of the late Nineties Bulls — Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc and Ron Harper — all strolling off the court docket in black sneakers. He advised the staff he wished everybody to put on black cleats on Saturday night time as an homage to that staff.
Staley’s message within the assembly, in keeping with one participant: “We glance the identical. We stand for one thing. We’re all going to do that collectively.”
Gamers rallied across the concept. One other motivational tactic from a coach attempting to do it in a different way. Soccer guys don’t channel basketball concepts. However Staley did.
It labored. Till all of it fell aside.
It was not till 12:06 am ET — practically 40 minutes after the clock at TIAA Financial institution Stadium had hit triple zeroes — that Herbert began to take his uniform off.
He took off his cleats, the black ones, then slumped again into his seat.
Gifted with the rocket arm that was supposed to guide this group to a brand new period, Herbert sat, and stared, and felt the load of a darkish cloud which may by no means dissipate.
(Prime photograph of Brandon Staley: Chris Carlson/Related Press)