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5 Takeaways: Chargers Endure Bitter End in Wild Card Loss


The Chargers lost 31-30 to the Jaguars on Saturday night in Jacksonville.

Here are five takeaways from the Wild Card round:

1. A bitter end

The Chargers season came to an end in bitter fashion Saturday night.

The Bolts fell 31-30 on the road to the Jaguars, sending the Chargers home in the Wild Card round of playoffs.

The loss was especially difficult since the Bolts led 27-0 at one point and were also up 27-7 at halftime.

Chargers players tried to make sense of the disappointing end to the season.

"22 years of playing football in my life, this one probably hurt the most," said Derwin James, Jr.

He later added: "It's definitely disbelief because it's like, everybody like to say it's part of the business, but you're up four touchdowns, you're supposed to win every game you play. I feel like there's no reason we shouldn't have gotten that done today."

Drue Tranquill said: "Tough to have the words for it. We won't forget this as competitors."

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said postgame that the emotion and heartbreak was palpable.

"Any time you're up 27-7 at halftime … it's going to be a killer," Staley said. "I'm hurting for everybody in that locker room. It's a special group of guys and this is the toughest way you can lose in the playoffs.

"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," Staley added. "We're going to learn a lot from this and unfortunately, this is the tough side of things. Our season's over but I love everybody in that locker room. This was a step for us and we're going to grow a lot from it."

The Chargers went 10-7 in the regular season and appeared to be on the verge of making a statement to the rest of the AFC in the first half.

But they couldn't seal the deal on a chilly Florida night and will now head into the offseason.

"It'd be nice to be able to fix things for next week, but that's not the case," Bosa said.

Justin Herbert added: "It's really tough because we think really highly of our team and that's a special group of guys in that locker room. They deserve better and it didn't go our way, that's the unfortunate part. Guys put everything they had into this year and especially in this game. You hate to see it go that way. I know everybody in that locker room who comes back is going to use this one as fuel for the next year and they're excited to get back to work. Definitely tough to process, but gotta keep it going and use this one as fuel."

2. Samuel's 3 INTs not enough

The Chargers couldn't have started the game any better, getting a Tranquill interception on the second play of the game that led to a quick touchdown.

Asante Samuel, Jr., then stole the show the rest of the first half, recording three interceptions off Trevor Lawrence in the first and second quarters.

Samuel became the first player in NFL history to have three interceptions in an NFL postseason debut, and was the first player with three interceptions in a single postseason game since Ty Law (2003 AFC Championship) and Ricky Manning (2003 NFC Championship) did it on the same day in January 2004.

"We didn't win, so none of that really matters to me," Samuel said. "I'm a team guy. It's good and all, but we didn't win the game."

The Bolts were up 27-0 late in the first half before the Jaguars put together a 2-minute scoring drive that ended with a touchdown with 24 seconds left.

That was a sign of things to come for the Bolts defense.

The unit allowed just 108 yards and seven points in the first half, but 24 points and 282 yards in the second half.

"We gave up too many plays," James said. "They scored too many points in the second half. I feel like we had all the points we needed to get the job done and we didn't."

Chargers defenders pointed to two areas — an up-tempo Jacksonville offense and poor tackling — they couldn't overcome.

James said: "A lot more tempo. A lot more getting on the ball. They weren't getting in the huddle, so we had to get up there and play."

Kyle Van Noy added: "I just don't think we tackled very well in the second half."

Staley pointed to penalties, rattling off a few of them that hurt the Bolts down the stretch.

Joey Bosa, who was called for a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct calls, concurred.

"It was pretty obvious why we blew that lead. Mistakes, penalties, all around, me definitely included," Bosa said.

3. Offense stymied in 2nd half

The Chargers took advantage in the opening half by scoring 20 points off turnovers, racking up 180 yards in the first two quarters.

But the second half was a different story as the Bolts managed just 140 total yards while dealing with a handful of injuries. DeAndre Carter and Jamaree Salyer were sustained ankle injuries in the first half.

The Bolts run game couldn't get going in the second half, posting just 20 yards on eight carries. Herbert picked up 13 of those yards on a third-down scramble in the fourth quarter.

"It was frustrating. It was frustrating. Just didn't have enough success at the line of scrimmage and not enough yards after contact," Staley said. "Just didn't play a good second half of football in any phase.

"Certainly, when you have that type of lead, if you can possess the ball effectively enough, then there won't be enough time," Staley added. "We just didn't do that and didn't score the ball either."

Overall, the Chargers finished with 67 rushing yards on 23 attempts. The longest runs of the night were Herbert's scramble and Austin Ekeler's 13-yard touchdown on the second offensive play from scrimmage.

The Bolts held the ball for more than 18 minutes in the opening half, but possessed it for just 14 minutes after halftime.

"As an offense, we need to do more in the second half and that falls on us offensively," Herbert said. "As a quarterback, I need to perform better and you've got to be able to be able to put up more than three points in the second half. I feel horrible for the defense for the incredible effort they put out there today, but gotta be better as a team."

4. Special teams misses chances

The Chargers special teams unit was the most consistent of the three all season.

And that group had their moments Saturday night, too, recovering a touched punt that led to a Bolts field goal.

But they couldn't put together a totally clean game.

Punt returns were fine as Jacksonville has just four yards on a pair of returns.  But the group allowed a 52-yard kickoff return to Jamal Agnew, who had 134 total return yards on kickoffs.

Cameron Dicker made his first three field goals on the night, including a career-long of 50 yards.

But his 40-yard try in the fourth quarter was pushed just to the left, keeping the score at 30-20 instead of giving the Chargers a 13-point lead.

"We just didn't play clean enough football in the second half in all three phases," Staley said.

5. Red-zone woes

Even in the first half, as the Chargers built a 27-0 lead, they missed multiple chances to really put the hammer down.

Samuel's first interception led to only a field goal, and while his second turned into a touchdown, his third resulted in a punt.

Even after a muffed Jaguars punt that set the Chargers up at the Jacksonville 6-yard line, the Bolts only managed three points.

Overall, the Chargers were 3-for-5 in the red zone and only 2-for-4 when they faced goal-to-go situations.

The missed points added up in a 1-point loss.

Defensively, Jacksonville scored touchdowns on three of their four possessions inside the 20-yard line, including both times when they faced first and goal.

"Didn't play well enough in the red area," Staley said.

Tranquill added: "Coach Staley was saying earlier in the week, we have to make them beat us. We beat ourselves in a lot of ways."

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