By Mark Long/AP Pro Football Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Justin Herbert sat in silence at his locker for roughly 15 minutes, staring into the distance. He had taken off his cleats but was still wearing most of his grass-stained uniform.
It was a defining scene for a team devastated by a collapse no one could have seen coming. And it made this much clear: Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers won’t get over this loss – the third-largest blown lead in postseason history – anytime soon.
The Chargers did little in the second half, allowing Trevor Lawrence to follow four interceptions with four touchdown passes and rally Jacksonville from a 27-0 deficit. They lost 31-30 on Riley Patterson’s 36-yard field goal on the final play.
“I’ve got to give them more than three points in the second half and so I feel horrible for the defense for the incredible effort they put up there today. But got to be better as a team.”
Most will point to Lawrence’s heroics as the reason for the 27-point comeback. He completed 24 of his final 31 passes for 258 yards, with four touchdowns. He connected with Evan Engram, Zay Jones, Marvin Jones and Christian Kirk, and then he scored on a 2-point conversion that left the Jaguars (10-8) down 30-28 and gave them a chance to win instead of tie with a field goal.
Even then, the Chargers (10-8) did nothing to slow them down.
“Anytime you’re up 27-7 at halftime and you’ve got four takeaways and you end up winning the takeaway margin (5-0), it’s going to be a killer,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “I’m hurting for everybody in that locker room. It’s a special group of guys, and this is the toughest way that you can lose in the playoffs and certainly with the way we started the game.
“That’s the team that I know that we’re capable of being, and in the second half, we just didn’t finish the game.”
It didn’t help that cornerback Michael Davis had left the game with a pectoral muscle injury that forced rookie Ja’Sir Taylor onto the field. Not surprisingly, the Jaguars picked on him.
It also didn’t help that star pass rusher Joey Bosa lost his cool, slammed his helmet to the ground on the field and picked up a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty – one that allowed the Jaguars to move the ball a yard closer and attempt the late 2-point conversion instead of an extra point.
“I think he was frustrated,” Staley said. “There were a bunch of things that kind of accumulated throughout the game. And he tried to talk through it with the officials. But we can’t lose our composure like that. We need to make sure that we stay on the high side of things. And you can’t hurt the team that way.”
Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said he probably would have called for the extra point had it not been for Bosa’s penalty.
Herbert threw for 273 yards and a touchdown without an interception, but the Chargers’ offense was largely ineffective after a 62-yard TD drive that made it 24-0 midway through the second quarter. Los Angeles finished with 320 yards of offense and 18 first downs, and it produced only three points on four second-half possessions.
Staley surely will be questioned for being too conservative, both on defense and offense – he opted for a field goal on fourth-and-3 midway through the fourth quarter that Cameron Dicker missed – and for not trying to run the ball more. LA had 23 rushing attempts for 69 yards, a 2.9-yard average, while Herbert threw 43 times.
Herbert was replaying all of it in his head as he sat silently at his locker stall.
“As an offense, we need to move the ball better,” he said. “Through the air, on the ground, you just have to be able to move the chains, and we didn’t do that enough. We didn’t score in the red zone enough.
“When we put up three points in the second half as an offense, that’s on us. Not executing, not converting on third down when we needed to, some penalties. But tough, tough.”