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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Jeff Miller

Chargers blow 27-point lead with horrendous second half in playoff loss to Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Los Angeles Chargers lost a playoff game Saturday night that they led by 27 points.

A playoff game in which one of their players had three interceptions.

A playoff game that ended with them having a 5-0 edge in takeaways.

The Chargers lost to Jacksonville 31-30 when Riley Patterson kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired, bringing a sudden and shocking end to a season as inconsistent as their final game.

“I don’t even have any words for it right now,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “I’ve been playing football 21 years and I ain’t never felt like this.”

After taking their big lead, the Chargers collapsed under a hail of penalties, an inability to run the ball and a defense that bent just far enough before breaking.

Now they enter an offseason loaded with questions, starting with the status of coach Brandon Staley.

Although there have been no credible new reports, there has been plenty of outside speculation that the often-polarizing Staley could be in danger of losing his job.

He and general manager Tom Telesco are expected to sit down with owner Dean Spanos in the coming days to evaluate the season.

Leading 27-0, the Chargers gave Jacksonville life late in the first half, the Jaguars going 47 yards in seven plays for a touchdown. Trevor Lawrence hit Evan Engram for a nine-yard score with 24 seconds left before halftime.

That moment swung the game with the Jaguars scoring two more touchdowns in the third quarter on Lawrence passes to Marvin Jones Jr. (six yards) and Zay Jones (39 yards on a busted coverage).

The Chargers countered with a 50-yard field goal by Cameron Dicker, which left their lead at 30-20 heading into the fourth quarter.

That inability to run the ball — an issue the Chargers have faced all season — made controlling the clock and thus the game impossible as Jacksonville was mounting its comeback.

“It’s definitely disbelief,” James said. “Everybody likes to say it’s part of the business, but you’re up four touchdowns, you’re supposed to win. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have got that done today.”

The Chargers did manage to kill some time — 6 minutes 57 seconds, to be exact — to open the fourth quarter, but the opportunity went to waste when Dicker missed a field goal from 40 yards.

The 14-play drive also consumed 53 yards as the Chargers converted a third and nine (on a Justin Herbert scramble of 13 yards) and a third and four (on a Herbert pass to Keenan Allen for six yards).

But after the possession stalled, Dicker hooked his attempt wide left, just his second missed field goal of the season.

That gave Jacksonville continued hope with 8:47 remaining. The Jaguars went 70 yards in nine plays — never facing a third down — and scored when Lawrence hit Christian Kirk for a nine-yard touchdown.

With the score 30-26, Jacksonville initially sent the kicking team for the extra point.

But Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa was called for unsportsmanlike conduct — his second such penalty of the game — after arguing with officials about being held. Bosa slammed his helmet to the turf.

Jaguars coach Doug Pederson then opted to go for two, with Lawrence sneaking across the goal line to make it 30-28 with 5:25 to go.

Needing a lengthy possession to drain more clock, the Chargers instead went three-and-out, gaining five yards and eating 2:16.

“It’s pretty obvious why we blew that lead,” Bosa said. “Mistakes, penalties all around, me definitely included.”

After a pause, he added: “I don’t know. I’ve been here a lot where we get up and get a little comfortable and then, boom, it’s the fourth quarter and it’s the final drive and they’re kicking a field goal.”

The ending was a remarkable contrast to the beginning of this one. Entering Saturday, Lawrence had thrown two interceptions since the end of October. The Chargers picked him off twice in the game’s first five minutes.

On Jacksonville’s second offensive play, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Bosa tipped a Lawrence pass that finally settled in the hands of linebacker Drue Tranquill.

A 15-yard return by Tranquill set up the Chargers’ offense at the Jaguars’ 18-yard line. After a Herbert completion to tight end Donald Parham Jr. for five yards, Austin Ekeler ran 13 more to give the Chargers a sudden lead.

Only 87 seconds into the game, Jacksonville’s raucous crowd had been decidedly muted.

And it was about to get quieter.

On the Jaguars’ next possession, Lawrence’s pass was intercepted again, this time by Asante Samuel Jr. on fourth down as a blitzing Bryce Callahan applied pressure.

The Chargers converted that turnover into a 22-yard field goal by Dicker, making it 10-0 with 5:30 left in the first quarter.

Their smothering start against Lawrence continued with Samuel’s second interception of the first quarter on Jacksonville’s fourth possession.

The second-year cornerback jumped in front of tight end Evan Engram to make the play, returning the pickoff four yards to the Jaguars’ 16-yard line.

This time it took three plays for Ekeler to reach the end zone as he scored from six yards to make it 17-0 with 44 seconds still to go in the first quarter.

By the time the first quarter was over, the crowd inside TIAA Bank Stadium was booing the home team. For context, this was just the second playoff game in Jacksonville this century.

The Chargers stretched their lead to 24-0 midway through the second quarter with a more traditional-looking touchdown drive, going 62 yards in 11 plays.

Herbert hit Gerald Everett for a nine-yard score on third down, the Chargers converting five of their first seven third downs.

On the Jaguars’ next possession, Samuel had his third interception when he made a play on a pass intended for Engram.

At that point, Lawrence was four of 16 with four interceptions.

Three of his passes had been caught by Samuel. No Jaguars player has more than two receptions.

Lawrence’s rating: 0.0.

The Chargers’ special teams joined the takeaway parade late in the second quarter when Amen Ogbongbemiga recovered a muffed punt at the Jacksonville six-yard line.

Unable to put the ball in the end zone after a short Ekeler run and two incompletions, the Chargers settled for a 23-yard field goal that gave them their 27-0 cushion.

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