INGLEWOOD, CA -Once again, the Los Angeles Chargers came close to victory. And once again, the Chargers came up short. That seems to be the theme song all season for the Chargers. Battle. Fight hard. Play extremely well in spurts. Lose a closely-played football game.
“I just told the guys, just keep competing,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “They did what I asked them to do, they competed for four quarters and I thought they were resilient. I thought they bounced back and I thought they played for one another. I do know if you continue to do that, at some point good things are going to happen.”
The scenario of seeing victory snatched by the hands of a 31-26 defeat against the Las Vegas Raiders was almost a repeat of what happened the week before when the Chargers lost on the last play of the game against the Denver Broncos. With six ticks left on the clock after driving down the field for a potential winning touchdown drive, the Chargers had two really good cracks at winning the ballgame.
As in the outcome of the Denver game, the Chargers got a carbon copy of this reality playing out again on Sunday as Los Angeles locked horns with their longtime AFC West Division rival, formerly known as the Oakland Raiders.
With six seconds left in the ballgame, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert threw a perfect fade to the back of the endzone where wide receiver Mike Williams could get it. Williams put his extended gloves on the ball and looked as if he would make the game-winning catch. Being able to come down with the football is another matter, something that Williams was not able to do.
Thanks to the defensive player from Las Vegas smothering him all over the play, Williams eventually laid the ball down on the carpet for an incomplete pass.
OK. Now there’s one more tick remaining in the fourth quarter. Down inside of the five-yard line, the Chargers had one more option up their sleeves. A fade route seemed like it could work given that the Chargers have some good length at the wide receiver position. And sure enough, that’s what the Chargers dialed up. Only this time, Willians would not be the go-to guy because he was shaken up on the previous play.
The Chargers’ options that they had at their disposal included wide receiver Keenan Allen and tight end Hunter Henry. The Chargers elected to have a fade pass thrown by Herbert to 6-foot-8 tight end Donald Parham Jr.
“Look, there’s a lot of guys, [TE] Hunter Henry, [WR] Keenan Allen. We have some guys that we can throw it to,” Lynn said. “We threw the ball to [WR] Mike [Williams] and Mike got us down there and the coverage just happened to give us Mike. Then, we had two shots. We knew we had two shots to win the game and I felt really good about the shots and like I said, we didn’t execute.”
Like his previous pass to Williams, Herbert lofted a well-thrown ball to where only Parham could get his hands on it.
Parham had it for a moment but another great play by the Raiders’ secondary caused Parham to bobble the ball and when he finally secured the ball, it originally looked like the Chargers would have their third victory of the season. The Chargers sidelines went wild in celebration while the Raiders were looking mum. Officials re-visited the play and reversed their earlier call, handing the Chargers another dose of coming up short but no cigar moment.
“You can only imagine,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “It’s what you’re in this business for. It’s why fans love it. It’s really what makes the world go around. The competition and the excitement, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, that pretty much summarizes it. I wish Jim McKay was here to say it for me.”
Lynn was more specific in his assessment of that last play. The Chargers gave Herbert multiple choices on what to do, including calling his own number, Lynn said.
“It was an option play,” Lynn told reporters. “The quarterback could have taken off and ran it but this quarterback is going to throw it to a guy [TE Donald Parham Jr.] who is 6-9 and all he’s done is caught touchdowns for us this year. So, I thought it was a good call, we didn’t execute the play and that’s just — you saw the results.”
Herbert said he liked the matchup that Parham had which is why decided to throw in the tight end’s direction.
“That’s one of those plays where if we get a one-on-one matchup with [TE] Donald Parham [Jr.], we’re going to throw that,” Herbert said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to score on that play, but I’m going to make that play and throw it to him 100 times again. I know he’s going to step up, and I know he’s going to make that play.”
Herbert, who registered another 300-yard plus performance (326 yards and two touchdowns on 28 of 42 passing), added that the swing of emotions coming from thinking you won to coming to grips with a heartbreaking loss, is difficult to swallow.
“It’s pretty tough,” Herbert said. “It’s always tough from thinking you’ve won the game. It’s one of those things where we’re going to watch film and get better. It’s unfortunate, but I thought the guys battled and we’ve drove down with a fourth-quarter drive. I thought it was good for us.”
The Chargers are a team that is battle-tested earning their stripes in the tough-as-nails department, ringing the doorbell to near wins against Kansas City, New Orleans, Carolina, Denver, and now against Las Vegas. The Chargers entered their game against the Raiders in must-win mode. For the sake of keeping their season going beyond the regular season, the Chargers, in a nutshell, were looking to keep their season alive.
Sitting at the bottom of the AFC West cellar with a 2-5 record entering the game, the Chargers could ill-afford to blow another double-digit lead they had done before this season. One more loss suffered would hurt the team’s chances of reaching the playoffs. Lose two games, and the Chargers know the postseason would likely be beyond their reach for this season. After losing to the Raiders, the Chargers are now 2-6 on the season, their postseason aspirations slowly seeping away.
It was a weird game from the start. First, for a team that has gone used to playing ahead of their opponents, the Chargers put up zero points against Las Vegas in the first quarter. Against the Raiders, the Chargers came up with a different playbook than in previous games. Instead of squandering double-digit leads, the Chargers started from the bottom, erasing an early deficit to go into halftime with a 17-14 lead.
When Las Vegas, rolled out 14 points in the third quarter, the Raiders looked as if they were going to make the game a runaway. But the Chargers steadily kept chipping away at the Raiders’ lead, finally giving themselves an opportunity to win. Trailing 28-26, the Chargers and Herbert mounted one last drive. By all accounts, the drive was a success.
Except for the part where the Chargers failed to close the deal.
“We went from celebrating to coming in, losing the game. It’s very disappointing,” Lynn said.