With the Baltimore Ravens losing to the Cincinnati Bengals during the early games on Sunday and falling to 10-7, the Los Angeles Chargers were locked into the #5 seed. In that kind of situation, normally you’ll see teams rest their starters mostly to avoid injuries – maybe they’ll put them in for the first drive or two, but the bulk of the game will see the backups play. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley bucked tradition by playing his starters up until the fourth quarter – a decision that proved controversial, especially given that a couple of starters got banged up in the process.
Brandon Staley Plays Starters in Week 18 Despite Nothing at Stake
This Chargers matchup versus the Denver Broncos should have been a meaningless one with not much to watch, given that the Chargers were locked in their playoff seeding and the Broncos season has been over for a while now. However, the Chargers playing their starters as well as Russell Wilson having a good game for the second straight week made things interesting.
The unfortunate result was that some injuries were suffered during a meaningless game just before the playoffs. The most notable one was Mike Williams; there was concern that one could be serious, especially when he got carted off from the sideline, but it was apparently just back spasms, and he should probably be able to play in Wildcard Weekend. Linebacker Kenneth Murray ended up leaving with a stinger – which is less serious, so he should be able to play in Wildcard Weekend. Joey Bosa got banged up as well but appeared to be okay as he had his helmet on later in the game.
The starters finally got pulled in the fourth quarter and the Chargers ultimately lost 31-28, finishing the regular season at 10-7. This was a loss that didn’t mean anything given that their spot and seeding were already secured, but it nearly came with a cost.
As mentioned earlier, it sounds like Mike Williams will more likely than not be able to in Wildcard Weekend, despite having been in quite a bit of pain from the back spasms. However, fairly or not, if Williams ends up being unable to play, this game will be remembered for Staley playing his starters for three quarters in a meaningless game and a critical player getting hurt during that.
There is an argument to be made that in a meaningless game like this, the starters should still play the first 1-3 drives, just to keep them loose while still giving them some rest. However, playing as long as three quarters does seem unnecessary and like you’re asking for trouble. The 2012 Atlanta Falcons did a similar thing and lost some defensive starters.
If Mike Williams does miss the Wildcard game after all, that will hurt the offense a bit. Granted, Justin Herbert is healthier than the last time Williams was out, but Williams is the primary big-play threat on this team right now. This is already not an overly vertical offense, but that becomes even more difficult if Williams is out. It would, however, provide another opportunity for Josh Palmer to shine – who has proven he’s capable of making plays.
The Chargers will be facing the Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8) on Wildcard Weekend. Fans will likely remember that the Chargers suffered their biggest loss of the year against this team in Week 3. However, this was the first game after Herbert got hurt, and in hindsight, he probably should not have been playing. Moreover, that was the game where multiple other critical starters went down – and this team is generally healthy going into the postseason. Joey Bosa is back and Rashawn Slater has a chance of coming back as well.
Despite this unexpectedly eventful Week 18 game which might result in at least one starter unnecessarily missing the Wildcard game (though that doesn’t seem overly likely), there’s still reason to be optimistic about the Chargers winning that game; the Jaguars, despite their own hot streak, are not exactly the toughest AFC team. But this chain of events in Week 18 is still going to put some scrutiny back on Brandon Staley, at least for now. A playoff win would do much to help remedy that.
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