On Saturday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Los Angeles Chargers suffered the third-largest postseason collapse in NFL history. After leading, 27-0, at one point during the first half, the Chargers went home on the losing end of a humiliating 31-30 defeat.
Only the 1992 Houston Oilers and 2013 Kansas City Chiefs blew larger playoff leads.
The Chargers staked themselves to that 27-0 advantage by intercepting FOUR Trevor Lawrence passes in the first half. Lawrence was picked off by Drue Tranquill in the second play of the game, then by Asante Samuel Jr. on three of the Jaguars' next five possessions. Los Angeles turned those four picks into 24 points, then added a field goal -- which came courtesy of a muffed punt, and after Justin Herbert missed a wide-open Keenan Allen in the end zone for what should have been a surefire touchdown -- to extend the lead to four scores with 4:25 remaining in the first half.
Over the ensuing 34:25, the Chargers had five possessions (not including a kneel-down on the final play of the first half). The results of those possessions were as follows:
- 3 plays, -1 yard, punt (1:22)
- 7 plays, 37 yards, punt (2:32)
- 7 plays, 45 yards, field goal (2:13)
- 14 plays, 58 yards, missed field goal (6:57)
- 3 plays, 5 yards, punt (2:16)
That's a total of 144 yards on 34 plays (4.2 per play), which combined to take 15:27 off the clock and yield just three points. In the meantime, the Jaguars took five drives and went:
- 7 plays, 47 yards, touchdown (1:25)
- 14 plays, 89 yards, touchdown (7:17)
- 5 plays, 68 yards, touchdown (2:14)
- 9 plays, 70 yards, touchdown (3:22)
- 10 plays, 61 yards, field goal (3:09)
That's 335 yards on 45 plays (7.4 per play), which combined to take 17:27 off the clock and yield 31 points. After he began the game 5 of 18 for 35 yards and four interceptions, Lawrence completed 23 of 29 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns, each to different receivers.
The Chargers also made numerous game management errors that proved costly. After taking their 27-0 lead, for example, the Chargers actually had a higher dropback rate (75%) than did the Jaguars (70%). L.A. did not run the ball successfully, with Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley combining for just 55 yards on 20 carries. The Chargers as a whole gained 19 yards on 10 rushing attempts after taking their 27-0 advantage.
On their opening drive of the second half, L.A. moved the ball quickly to the Jacksonville 38-yard line, only for Justin Herbert to throw incomplete three times in a row and Brandon Staley to decide to punt. Jacksonville then went on a 14-play, 89-yard drive for a score.
Leading by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, Herbert threw incomplete to Josh Palmer down the field on third-and-3. There was a holding penalty called on Ekeler on the play that would have pushed the Chargers back 10 yards and set up third-and-13 from the 32-yard line, but Doug Pederson declined the penalty and set up fourth-and-short. Staley opted for a 40-yard field goal, which Cameron Dicker pulled wide to the left. The Jags went right down the field, marching 70 yards on nine plays.
The final play of that drive was a touchdown throw from Lawrence to Christian Kirk that pulled the Jags within four points. Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa thought that right tackle Jawaan Taylor should have been called for a false start, and he ended up slamming his helmet into the ground and getting whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Instead of kicking the extra point to make it a three-point game, Pederson accepted the penalty on the point-after try, and the Jags went for two. Lawrence saw an opening for a jump-sneak and thrust the ball over the goal line while leaping in the air, making it a two-point game.
After the Chargers went three-and-out on their ensuing possession (which ended in a punt on fourth-and-5 from the 30-yard line), the Chargers did not have Bosa on the field for the Jaguars' final drive -- including a crucial fourth-and-1 from the L.A. 41-yard line, which turned into a 25-yard run by Travis Etienne, setting up the game-winning 36-yard field goal by Riley Patterson.
By losing this game, the Chargers became the first team ever to lose a playoff game in which they won the turnover battle by five or more. Playoff teams were previously 26-0 in that situation prior to Saturday night. Naturally, the Chargers managed to find a way to break that streak, in a way only the Chargers could.