On paper, the Los Angeles Chargers have almost everything required to compete for an AFC playoff spot: a Pro Bowl quarterback in Justin Herbert; the NFL's touchdowns leader since 2021 in running back Austin Ekeler; a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in Keenan Allen; two Pro Bowl pass-rushers in Joey Bosa, who left with a leg injury in Week 12 and didn't return, and Khalil Mack; and All-Pro safety Derwin James. However, a 23-20 road loss at the struggling Green Bay Packers dropped their record to 4-6.
Los Angeles had multiple opportunities to take the lead in the fourth quarter, but Ekeler fumbled on the 2-yard line with 12:54 left and then first-round pick receiver Quentin Johnston dropped a pass that may have gone for a touchdown. Johnston cleanly beat his man, but he couldn't hang on to Herbert's throw that hit him in the hands. An incompletion on the following play sealed the win for the host Packers, a team who improved to 4-6 with the victory.
Sunday was the Chargers' fifth loss by three or fewer points this season, notable considering no one else in the league has more than two such losses. They are only the fifth team since 2000 with five losses by three or fewer points in their first 10 games of season. Los Angeles is also the first team to lose five of their first 10 games on a game-winning score in the final three minutes of regulation or in overtime since the 2000 San Diego Chargers. The team has been outscored, 32-3, in the final three minutes of regulation this season, a staggering margin.
"We need to focus on our execution, we had plenty of opportunities today, but we didn't capitalize on enough of them to finish the game," head coach Brandon Staley said postgame.
Staley, who was the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams' top-ranked scoring defense (18.5 points per game, fewest in NFL in 2020) and passing defense (190.7 passing yards per game allowed, the fewest in the NFL) has seen his Chargers defense crumble this season in his third season as a head coach and defensive play-caller. Los Angeles is allowing 23.8 points per game (tied for the eighth-most in the league) and 393.6 passing yards per game (the most in the league).
Packers first-time starting quarterback Jordan Love threw for 322 yards, a career-high and the first game of his young career with over 300 yards. That snapped a 27-game streak by the Packers without 300 passing yards, which was the longest active streak in the NFL and their longest since 1991-93, a run that partially predated Brett Favre's tenure as the starting quarterback in Green Bay. They also snapped a seven-game run of scoring fewer than 20 points. Essentially, the Chargers were the Packers' get-right game. Not great.
"You can stop asking that question, I'm going to be calling the defenses OK, so we're clear," Staley said postgame, clearly exasperated when asked if he will continue calling the defensive plays. "So, you don't have to ask that again."
If the struggles continue, Staley may find himself on the hot seat on Monday, Jan. 8. That's the first Monday after the regular season ends, a time when many teams typically move on from struggling head coaches.