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Los Angeles Chargers Fall Short Despite Best Efforts of Justin Herbert

Justin Herbert pulled off some absurd late heroics, but it was not enough as the Chargers lost in overtime and out of the playoffs.
Justin Herbert

The Los Angeles Chargers found themselves in a “win or go home” position against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday night, who were also in the same position. What resulted was likely one of the more insane games of the season, as Justin Herbert worked some of his magic in the fourth quarter to bring the Chargers back from the brink. But it wasn’t enough in the end as the Chargers fell 35-32 to the Raiders in overtime and out of the playoffs, finishing the season at 9-8.

Justin Herbert Does His Best, But Los Angeles Chargers Fall Short

Early Struggles

The Chargers got off to a rocky start early on. They fell behind 10-0 at the start thanks in part to a rare muffed punt by Andre Roberts. The Chargers did answer with a pair of Austin Ekeler touchdowns but then fell behind again at halftime after a semi-controversial Chris Harris pass interference call near the end zone. (The ball was obviously uncatchable, but a penalty still seemed necessary due to Harris basically decking the receiver for no reason; illegal contact might have been more accurate.) This left the score at 14-17 at halftime.

The third quarter and the early fourth quarter were a mess as the Chargers struggled to move the ball and the defense began to fold and they eventually fell behind 29-14. Herbert was unable to get much going as he was constantly under pressure, thanks to the right side of the line being basically nonexistent as Maxx Crosby made Storm Norton look like a turnstile.

Cardiac Comeback

The fourth quarter is when the game really got wild, as Justin Herbert finally got the ball moving more consistently. The drive (and thereby the game) would likely have ended at 4th and 21 at the Raiders 23-yard-line, but Herbert managed to throw an absolute dime to Josh Palmer in the end zone for a touchdown. They went for two early as opposed to later, making the score 29-22. The Chargers then got a rare stop on defense and forced a three out, getting the ball back with just over two minutes left.

What then transpired can only be described as insanity. With above two minutes left, the Chargers somehow had a 19-play drive which took nearly half an hour of real time. Said drive included no less than three conversions on fourth down. The whole thing culminated with Herbert throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass as time expires to Mike Williams, tying the game up and sending it to overtime.

Overtime Heartbreak

Overtime proved an intense affair for multiple fans. Unfortunately, despite having quite a bit of time to rest up, the Chargers defense folded in overtime – particularly the run defense, which has struggled almost all year as Josh Jacobs made short work of them. They managed to hold the Raiders to a field goal but were only able to return a field goal themselves, leaving the game at 32-32.

The game ultimately came down to a third down with four yards to go at the Chargers 39-yard line, with under a minute to go. Brandon Staley called a timeout beforehand, which ended up being a point of controversy for some reason. The allegation is that it gave the Raiders more time to win or that the Raiders would’ve just knelt and taken the tie otherwise, but Staley waited until the play clock ran down to near zero to call the timeout, and the Raiders were not in the kind of formation to kneel down at all – Derek Carr was in shotgun.

Ultimately, it did not come down to Staley calling a timeout – it came down to the fact that the Chargers run defense failed to stop Jacobs on third down and thus allowed the Raiders into field goal range and that was that. Which is pretty fitting; for most of the season, they had been unable to stop a nosebleed if their lives depended on it. It sounds as if the Raiders probably would have just taken the tie if they had not gotten that first down too, given that there would have been less than 30 seconds left at that point.

In Conclusion

Considering Justin Herbert’s absurd heroics in the fourth quarter, this was definitely a sickening way to finish the season. There has been already and will be a lot of finger-pointing, some of which is going in Staley’s direction right now. He’s not entirely blameless, but he is a guy who takes chances; fans will like it when the results work, and they will not like it when the results don’t work. But the timeout in overtime certainly was not the issue here.

This ultimately came down to the Chargers defense; despite having a few stars like Joey Bosa and Derwin James, they are simply not there yet as a unit. The secondary committed a few dumb penalties in regulation, and the run defense folded again when it counted. Herbert did the absolute best he could to save the Chargers, but in the end, it was not enough.

The future does remain bright for the Chargers with Justin Herbert at quarterback and having plenty of good pieces in place. And they did improve from last year and finish with a winning record, something that not everybody saw coming. But the way this season ended is still going to sting for a bit.

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