Monday, June 24, 2024

Alexander: Chargering taken to a new low in Jacksonville

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If you are a longtime Chargers fan — and yes, there are a good number of you out there who followed the team in San Diego and stayed with them when they arrived in L.A. in 2017 — Saturday night was way too familiar.

(And if they were dead to you when they left San Diego, I can understand if you celebrate, or at least mutter, “Somebody else’s problem.”)

The events that led to Saturday night’s latest elimination from the postseason represent a vivid illustration of why “Chargering” is a term, defined in no less a source than the Urban Dictionary as: “the act of blundering when you should have things well in hand … when you are screwing up or under-performing at an almost comical level.”

How else can you describe it? They had a 27-0 first-half lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars, they’d forced five turnovers, and they spit it all up in the second half with a combination of hubris, lack of discipline and poor decisions, plus a crucial missed field goal by normally reliable Cameron Dicker a little more than six minutes into the fourth quarter. And when Riley Patterson’s 36-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to secure the Jaguars’ 31-30 victory, Brandon Staley’s future as coach of the Chargers was immediately in doubt.

I suspect that the 40-year-old Staley could, with experience and maturity, ultimately be a respected and accomplished NFL head coach. He’s not there yet, or anywhere close, and depending on the upcoming evaluation by decision-makers Tom Telesco and John Spanos it might not happen here. It may or may not be telling that the Chargers scheduled media availability with players Sunday but nothing with the coach.

The evaluation process could come down to whether (a) Sean Payton, always the first name mentioned, is available, (b) what the Chargers’ cost might be in salary and assets headed to New Orleans, which still owns Payton’s rights, and (c) whether a quick decision on Payton might run afoul of the Rooney Rule.

The hubris mentioned above? That goes back to the week before, when Staley played his starters in a meaningless regular finale in Denver, Mike Williams hurt his back and Staley maintained all week that he hadn’t made a mistake by risking injuries. As it turned out, Williams had a small fracture in his back and didn’t make the trip, and don’t you think Justin Herbert could have used him as a target while the Chargers were struggling in the second half Saturday night?

Lack of discipline? That would be Joey Bosa throwing his helmet to the ground in a fit of anger and drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, his second of the game, after the touchdown that pulled Jacksonville to within 30-26 in the fourth quarter. That penalty moved the ball from the 2-yard line to the 1 for the conversion and prompted Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson to go for two, and when Trevor Lawrence reached over the goal line with the ball on the two-point try the Jaguars were within a field goal of winning.

Poor decisions? Among other things, bad clock management, a failure to adjust when Lawrence went no-huddle, more puzzling play calls by offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, and a costly misevaluation on fourth-and-1 at the Chargers’ 41 with 1:27 left in the game. The Chargers stacked the box and the Jaguars took what was given them, with Travis Etienne running 25 yards around right end. Two plays later, Patterson kicked the winning field goal.

Anyone remember Ray Rice’s fourth-and-29 conversion for Baltimore a decade ago in San Diego, setting up a game-tying field goal en route to a Ravens’ win? Chargering has a long history.

There was Marlon McCree’s fumbled interception that cost the Chargers a divisional round victory against New England in January 2007, after a regular season in which San Diego was 14-2 and favored to reach the Super Bowl. And Nate Kaeding’s missed field goals: A 40-yarder, wide right, in overtime of a 20-17 wild card loss to the Jets in January 2005, and three more misses — including another 40-yarder, wide right, with 4:38 left — in a 17-14 divisional-round loss to the Jets in January 2010.

And if your memory is really long, you’ll remember a 17-14 divisional-round loss to the then-Houston Oilers in 1979. The Chargers came in 12-4 and with a plus-165 point differential, and they outgained Houston 380-259, but Hall of Famer Dan Fouts was intercepted five times while Gifford Nielsen, who doesn’t have a bust in Canton, hit Mike Renfro with a 47-yard touchdown pass for the winning points.

There is a difference. All of those were at home. All of those were by teams who were expected to at least contend for a spot in the Super Bowl. But none of those involved a blown 27-point lead, either. No Chargers team had ever done so, according to Pro Football Reference, until Saturday night.

So was this the Chargers’ worst, or at least most agonizing, postseason loss ever? It’s certainly in the conversation.

Worth noting, as well: Staley didn’t learn from his former boss. Sean McVay is famous for taking responsibility after Rams’ losses, sometimes comically so. Staley made a lot of references about failures in “all three phases” in his postgame remarks Saturday night, but as far as I can tell not once did he say, “It’s on me.”

Maybe some humility is warranted.

And maybe some hard questions need to be asked, and answered, before any more of Herbert’s career is entrusted to not only Staley and/or Lombardi but those above them in the front office.

There’s another common thread in Chargers history: great quarterbacks who have never been in position to win a championship. Dan Fouts never reached a Super Bowl. Neither did Philip Rivers. Drew Brees had to go to New Orleans to reach one and win it.

Now, with another generational talent in their midst, do Telesco, Spanos and the rest of the front office have what it takes to build a champion around him? Or will Herbert’s career be frittered away because of organizational failures?

Perhaps Justin should have a conversation with Mike Trout.

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