Chargers Given Golden Opportunity In Playoff Race, Squander It Instead

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What a lost opportunity for the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday.

Everything had gone perfectly for the Chargers and their playoff hopes.

The Patriots lost.

The Jets lost.

The Dolphins lost.

Heck, even the Chiefs lost (not that the division is in play or anything). The Chargers had a legitimate chance to pull even with the Jets for the final playoff spot with a win against the Las Vegas Raiders. They led 10-0 in the first quarter.

Yet, the Chargers lost too.

Las Vegas rallied for a 27-20 win behind a monster game from Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams. The Chargers are 6-6, and right where they were when the week started in the AFC playoff picture.

The same old problems surfaced for the Chargers. They couldn’t stop the run. They couldn’t run the ball, well, they didn’t even try. The offensive line is suddenly a problem (I have a theory on that). Quarterback Justin Herbert was bloody at the end of the game (elbow), his left sock was ripped, and he couldn’t pull another miracle off at the end.

It’s so frustrating.

Now the Chargers face a legitimate must-win game at home against the Dolphins Sunday night at SoFi. It’s two teams fighting for a wild card spot. If the Chargers lose, it’ll be almost impossible for them to get in, because they’d lose the tiebreaker with the Dolphins.

So It’s All Over? Well, It’s Complicated

The Chargers didn’t move in the AFC playoff standings at all. They entered the week in ninth position, they leave the week in ninth position. Only the top seven teams make it.

The Dolphins are sixth, second in the AFC East, but they are 8-4, so they are a win up on the Chargers.

The Jets are 7-5 and clinging to that final playoff spot. They get the Bills on the road Sunday. They will not be favored.

But it’s hard to see Los Angeles going on a run here. The Chargers are fundamentally flawed on the defensive line and hurt without Joey Bosa. They can’t stop the run, period. Full stop. Josh Jacobs had 144 yards Sunday. The Chargers allowed 5.3 yards per rush. That’s like historically bad.

There’s not a team left on the Chargers schedule that doesn’t see this and think…well, let’s run the ball on these guys.

Where Did the Offensive Line Go?

The Chargers suddenly have issues on the offensive line. Will Clapp has filled in OK for starting center Corey Linsley, but he’s not the same level as a player.

Rookies Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer have played at a pretty high level for most of the season until a few weeks ago. And I think I know why.

I think they’ve hit the rookie wall.

We’re 12 games into the NFL season. It’s a longer season than college, and it happens. Suddenly both Johnson and Salyer look a little slower against NFL pass rushers. There’s tape on both guys now and NFL coaches love film, why? Because they can spot weaknesses and exploit them.

What’s scary is – and it was never, even mentioned on the broadcast – was Johnson missed part of the first half for some reason and the Chargers had to use back-up Brenden Jaimes at right guard. He got destroyed when he was in.

But how do you fix/overcome a poor offensive line? You try to run the ball.

Of the Chargers first 15 plays Sunday, they called four running plays (not counting Herbert scrambles and the fake punt).  

Is The Defense Fixable?

Every week I have written, man, the Chargers really miss Joey Bosa, and they do, but I’m not sure even his return can make this Chargers defense that much better.

It’s the same thing, the defensive line gets pushed around, and the holes are huge. It’s been a problem dating back to Week 3 and the Jaguars game. I see it, the Chargers come out with two down linemen, three down linemen, four down linemen, and it doesn’t matter.

Renaldo Hill is the Chargers defensive coordinator.

I don’t want to press the panic button, but remember, the Chargers were considered Super Bowl contenders this season. The mainstream media loved Herbert (with good reason) and the addition of Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson (hurt) on defense. People thought they were going to contend with the Chiefs for the division and AFC superiority.

Now, the Chargers might not make the playoffs and they may need a scapegoat at the end of the year. It might be Hill.

But it also might not be his fault. The Chargers are athlete-heavy on defense, and just didn’t build up from the inside on the defensive line enough. (In other words, they’re small). If they don’t go defensive line with their first pick in the NFL Draft I’d be shocked.

Did You Notice?

Khalil Mack, three tackles, no sacks. No quarterback hits. He’s going to make $17.2 million next year.

I told you last week that Chargers punter JK Scott was having an incredible season and the Chargers led the NFL in punt return yards against. It happened again. Scott had three punts Sunday. Number of Raider return yards? Zero.

Speaking of punt returns though, DeAndre Carter had his longest punt return of the year – 23 yards in the first quarter.

Huge Revenge Game for Raiders defensive lineman Jerry Tillery. The Chargers dumped their former first-round pick a few weeks ago. He was signed by the Raiders and he ate the Chargers lunch in the first quarter, finishing with two tackles and two hits on Herbert.

What’s the deal with the Raiders captain patches? You know the C icon on the right side of the jersey. For some players it’s silver and you can’t tell what it says, but for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and Davante Adams the patch is black. It looks much better black.

On the pick six by the Chargers in the first quarter, yes, the Chargers clearly got away with pass interference. Asante Samuel Jr. clobbered the Raiders wide receiver in the head.

It was the Chargers first pick six since a 2020 win over the Jets. Anyone remember who had that interception return that day? It was Tevaughn Campbell who picked off Elite Joe Flacco and ran it back six yards. The Jets were 0-10.

Keenan Allen had the Chargers play of the day with his 35-yard TD catch on fourth down in the fourth quarter, then he flipped his hand in the ‘talk’ motion, basically calling out the Raiders secondary to stop talking and they couldn’t cover him. I love you Keenan, really, but you were losing the game, 27-20, at the time.