The Los Angeles Chargers came up just short of a final second victory, falling to the Las Vegas Raiders 31-26.
Down five, the Chargers used the final 4:37 to drive 71 yards and take two shots at the end zone from the Raiders four yard-line. Justin Herbert and Donald Parham Jr. nearly saw themselves as the heroes in what would have been a a script-flipping victory. Fortune evading them, the Chargers now sit at 2-6 and sit at the bottom of the AFC West.
The first half of the Chargers’ season has had consistencies: close games, signature mistakes, and heartbreak. Their six losses up to this point have all come by one possession and by a combined 24 points.
There are a few reasons and instances in which we can point to in order understand its outcome.
The Fourth Quarter
The Chargers defense came up with a huge three-and-out while down to with over eight minutes left in the game. K.J. Hill brought up feelings reminiscent of past games as he muffed the punt, allowing the Raiders to take over on their 31. The defense held the Raiders to a field goal and kept the game at a manageable distance.
Chargers Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen’s play-calling did not devolve in the way Chargers fans have seen week in and week out. Rather, it was aggressive and allowed Herbert the freedom to make the big plays necessary to win the game.
In the Chargers final two drives, 19 of the 27 plays called put responsibility on the first year signal-caller, which resulted on a touchdown and a drive that ended on the Raiders four yard-line.
Final Two Plays, Much Like the Chargers
However, it was the final two plays where we can see the clear flaws in the Chargers play-calling. Steichen called two consecutive fades to the back right corner, both of which were perfectly executed by Herbert. Raiders defensive back Isaiah Johnson paired up against the 6-foot-4 Mike Williams the first time around, successfully punching the ball out as both fell to the floor.
Johnson was picked on again, this time covering 6-foot-8 Parham. The play came down a booth review to show he was able to keep the Chargers tight end from securing the ball as they came down out of bounds.
The concept here is not difficult to understand: pick on the young, smaller corner in Johnson. The match-up makes sense on paper, especially when considering Williams’ ability to physically overtake defensive backs. However, the choice to go with Parham with the game on the line is questionable.
With options like Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry at their disposal, choosing a player with two catches on five targets this season felt as another opportunity to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. Allen had already scored earlier in the afternoon and tallied nine catches for 103 yards. Henry had four catches for 33, respectively.
Steichen and Head Coach Anthony Lynn paid the consequence, falling for the second straight week to a division rival.
Running back Justin Jackson was injured on the very first play from scrimmage and offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga two plays later, both never returning to action. Yet, despite giving up two sacks, the offensive line and running game survived.
In his first game since being activated from the practice squad, Kalen Ballage led the rushing attack with 15 carries for 69 yards and a score. The performance was good for his second most career carries and yardage. Overall, the rushing attack fell just short of its season average of 136.7 yards/game with 128.
If there’s one positive constant on this team, it’s Herbert. He went 28 of 42 for 326 yards and two touchdowns. Herbert has now thrown for over 300 yards in four of his first seven starts. He also recorded his fifth multi-passing touchdown and sixth multi-score game. As per NFL Research, Herbert broke Cam Newton‘s record for most pass yards in a rookie’s first seven starts. For context, Newton won Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The trust coaching has put on the rookie out of Oregon became increasingly apparent this week, especially late in games. His fourth quarter performance of 13-of-16 for 124 yards and a touchdown was nearly bookended with a victory. Keeping faith in Herbert should eventually yield positive team results.
What’s Next for the Chargers
Next week’s game should garner national attention as the Bolts travel to South Beach to take on the Miami Dolphins. Coming off of an exciting victory over the Arizona Cardinals to improve to 5-3, the Dolphins feature another bright rookie quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, who was taken one spot ahead of Herbert in this year’s draft.
The game is slated for a 1:05pm PST kickoff next Sunday.