JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It was a game the Los Angeles Chargers had no business losing, but there they stood on the sideline at TIAA Bank Stadium on a chilly January night, helplessly watching as kicker Riley Patterson drilled a 36-yard field goal to lift the Jacksonville Jaguars to an improbable 31-30 come-from-behind victory in a wild-card playoff game Saturday night.
“I’m hurting for everybody in that locker room,” LA coach Brandon Staley said after the defeat. “This is the toughest way that you can lose in the playoffs.”
The Bolts intercepted quarterback Trevor Lawrence four times in the first half. They won the turnover battle 5-0. But they also watched as a 27-0 lead vanished, sending them packing into the offseason.
“It’s really tough because we think really highly of our team, and that’s a special group of guys in that locker room,” Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert said. “They deserve better, and it didn’t go our way, and that’s the unfortunate part.”
The Jaguars’ comeback effort amounted to the third-largest come-from-behind win in the NFL playoffs and the fifth largest in league history, if including the regular season.
“It’s embarrassing,” LA defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said. “It feels really bad, and it just sucks.”
At the outset of the game, the Chargers wasted no time setting an aggressive tone.
On the Jaguars’ second play from scrimmage, linebacker Drue Tranquill intercepted a pass from Lawrence. Two plays later, running back Austin Ekeler converted the takeaway into a touchdown.
On the Jags’ ensuing drive, cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. grabbed a pick of his own and followed with two more in the first half, becoming the first player in NFL playoff history with three first-half interceptions.
The Bolts also forced a first-half turnover after recovering a muffed point.
They converted four of the five takeaways into points and led 27-0 until, with 44 seconds remaining in the first half, Lawrence connected with tight end Evan Engram for a 9-yard touchdown.
From there, Lawrence threw a touchdown pass on three consecutive drives to open the second half, and the Chargers’ meltdown — during which they were unable to get a stop or develop any rhythm on offense — was in full effect.
“We just didn’t play clean enough football in the second half in all three phases,” Staley said. “We didn’t score the ball or possess it well enough on defense. We had far too many penalties in the second half that really hurt us and didn’t play well enough in the red area, didn’t perform well there in the two minutes at the end of the game. Just didn’t play a good second half of football as a team.”
Herbert, in the first postseason start of his career, completed 25 of 43 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown.
“As an offense, we need to move the ball better, through the air, on the ground,” Herbert said. “We just have to be able to move the chains. We didn’t do that enough. We didn’t score in the red zone enough. Only put up three points in the second half. So as an offense, that’s on us. “
The Bolts led throughout, until Patterson converted the winning field goal as time expired.
“The way we started the game, that’s the team that I know we’re capable of being,” Staley said. “In the second half, we just didn’t finish the game.”