Let’s face it, no NFL team typifies failure to execute in crucial situations more than the Los Angeles Chargers.
Despite having a borderline Hall of Fame quarterback in Philip Rivers, they seemingly always find a way to screw things up when the game is on the line.
If the NFL lives another 100 years, it’s doubtful the franchise could ever match its futility in the formative final few seconds of its 23-20 loss in Tennessee on Sunday.
“I’m going to tell y’all, I’ve never been in a ballgame like that before,” coach Anthony Lynn told the media after the game. “When you go from feeling like your guys fought their ass off, which they did, and won the ballgame, and then lose it the way we lost it.”
The Chargers, 2-5, were in deep in Titans territory, in great position to either tie or win the game in the final 40 seconds when the wheels fell off their offense.
It began with 39 seconds to play from the Titans 16 when Rivers hit Austin Ekeler on a slant for what appeared to be a touchdown. It wasn’t. The officials overruled the score and marked the ball at the 1 after determining Ekeler’s backside was down before the ball crossed the plane of the end zone.
Then on first-and-goal from the 1, Melvin Gordon looked like he’d scored, but a false start was called on guard Dan Feeney and the ball was moved back to the 6.
The craziness was just beginning. On the next play, the Titans were called for pass interference, moving the ball back to the Titans 1. And then out of the shotgun, Rivers gave it to Gordon again for what looked like another touchdown. But once again, the replay official overturned the call, claiming Gordon was down.
“On the field, we won it twice,” said tight end Hunter Henry. “We scored twice with 20 seconds left in the game and they called touchdown on the field. I looked at the sideline a few times like, ‘That’s the game.’ To have that happen toward the end is one of the craziest games I’ve ever been in.”
Then came the crusher. On second-and-goal, Gordon, whose contract holdout lasted through the first three games of the season, was given a second opportunity to score.
This time, Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard knocked the ball loose and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey recovered in the end zone. That play also went to review. And for the third straight time, the Chargers lost.
“I know the weight of it,” said Henry. “I know he’s feeling the weight of it. But I was just trying to be there for him.”
The loss was the third straight for the Chargers who continue to drop further out of the AFC West race and the chase for a wild card.
For some, the outcome may just have appeared as bad luck; two touchdowns called back by the officials before Gordon’s fumble. But the reality is much different.
“At the end we needed one yard to win this game, and we didn’t get it,” said Lynn. “You don’t get one yard, then you don’t deserve to win this damn game. That’s just the way it is. We needed one yard to win this game, and we let it slip out of our hands.”
According to ESPN, the Chargers have now turned the ball over five times in goal-to-go situations this season. And through just seven weeks, that’s already tied for the most goal-to-go turnovers by a team in the past 15 seasons.
Gordon was disconsolate.
“You got this locker room and a whole organization depending on you to make a play right there,” said Gordon. “And you come up short.”
The Athletic spoke with Chargers receiver Mike Williams who said Gordon approached him after the turnover and said, “I’m not supposed to put the ball on the ground like that.”
Williams had a quit response. “Shit happens. It’s football.”
Perhaps. But Chargers fans will tell you it happens to them more often than just about any team in the league.
“I’m going to come in and work my ass off for the rest of the season,” defensive end Joey Bosa said. “I can’t control anybody else. I know we have a lot of guys that want to win, and we’ll see who’s with me on Monday. You can find out who wants it pretty quick after a game like that.”
Gordon is going to be on top of that list. He has only 81 yards rushing since his return and for all intents and purposes has lost his starting job to Ekeler, who has outperformed him in every way.
“I could care less about that,” said Gordon. “It’s more so the guys. We fought to get back, and to get to the 1 and not be able to get in there, with all these guys depending on you — forget everybody else. Forget all that. I just got a big thing: I never want to let the guys that I play with down. You know? And that’s what hurts more than anything. I feel like I’ve let them guys down.”
“Their opinion only really matters. Everybody outside is going to love you and then they’re going to hate you. So they’re going to say what they say. People are going to talk bad on me and slander my name and I get it. But as long as these boys in here still believe in me, we’re going to be all right, I’m going to be all right. But you just hate to let the guys down in here.”