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'Continue to Fight': How Brandon Staley Helped Rally the Chargers to the Playoffs


Almost nobody saw the conversation take place.

But for the three men that were involved, it was perhaps a season-defining moment that helped the Chargers carve out a path to the postseason.

Back on November 13, the visiting locker room at Levi's Stadium was nearly empty.

Just as Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley was about to head for the bus, he took a brief moment — maybe 90 seconds at most — to meet with two of his star players.

"I remember it well," Staley said of his chat with Justin Herbert and Derwin James, Jr.

The Bolts star safety recalled the conversation.

"He was telling us that we just needed to stay in the fight and stay together. It may look a little gray right now but everything we want is still in front of us," James said. "Me and Herbert, he looked at the both of us and said, 'You are two leaders on this team. You make the offense go and you make the defense go.'

"I loved that from him," James added.

Herbert said the moment was reflective of the overall attitude and demeanor that Staley has brought to the Bolts.

"One of the great things about Coach Staley is that he's been the same person these past two years," Herbert said. "Whether we win or whether we lose, he still preaches the same thing.

"He's been an incredible leader and has the respect of everyone in that locker room," Herbert added. "Everyone wants to play for him."

Staley recently described a synopsis of the message he shared in the corner of the locker room as the three of them had bags slung over their shoulders.

"It was a moment where I was really, really proud of how both those two led us in that game," Staley said.

Check out some photos of Brandon Staley's previous coaching stops that led him to be named the 17th head coach in Chargers history.

Staley's impactful message came after a 22-16 loss to the 49ers in primetime.

The Chargers had fallen to 5-4 after Staley's squad had held the lead for more than 52 minutes in Week 10. It was a courageous and gritty effort from a Bolts team that was severely banged up coming into the game.

Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Trey Pipkins III were inactive. Joey Bosa, Rashawn Slater, J.C. Jackson, Joshua Kelley and Austin Johnson were on Injured Reserve.

Health-wise, things didn't get much better during the game, as defensive tackles Otito Ogbonnia and Christian Covington suffered injuries and were eventually put on Injured Reserve.

"We were down a bunch of guys," Staley said. "San Francisco was coming off a bye, at full strength, and I just thought we competed at such a high level."

In a frustrated locker room, Staley sought out two faces of the franchise and made sure he recognized the fight and effort their respective sides of the ball had shown when the whole world was watching.

"I just told them that you could tell a lot about the leaders of your football team by how they play in a game like that when the deck is stacked against you," Staley said. "I just said, 'You guys are so young, but our future is so bright. Because you guys will never let us fail and never let your teammates go out there and not lay it on the line. You're going to have to remember this game and what it took, because we're going to continue to fight like this as we go.'

"I was just really proud of them and challenged them to continue to use one another, do it together," Staley added, "and it will have a big impact on our team."

Both James and Herbert listened to the message after a night where the Chargers missed a chance to pick up their second straight win coming off the bye week.

"He knew how hard we'd just played, how much effort we put into that week," James said. "You know, that San Fran loss was a tough one because we put so much into that game and we felt like we should have won since we were leading going into the fourth quarter.

"We laid it all on the line and he had seen that. He saw we weren't quitting or laying down," James added. "So, he came to me and Herbert and said, 'You guys are the guys. Let's keep going.'"

The Chargers did not win the following week, dropping a tight primetime contest to the Chiefs to fall to 5-5.

Then came a gutsy victory in Arizona where Staley boldly called for a 2-point play in the final seconds that proved to be the difference in a 25-24 win. But the Bolts up-and-down season continued in Week 13 with a seven-point loss to the division-rival Raiders.

Soon after though, things clicked for both the Chargers and their defense.

The Bolts rattled off four consecutive wins to get to 10-6, clinching a Wild Card spot along the way as the defense soared down the stretch.

From Weeks 14 to 17, the Chargers allowed just 44 total points, notching 13 sacks and forcing five turnovers. The Bolts defense allowed opposing offenses to convert just 10 of their 43 total tries on third downs (23.2 percent).

As the Bolts prepare to head to Jacksonville for a Wild Card round matchup with the Jaguars, a pair of team leaders offered insight on how Staley kept the Chargers ship steady over the course of a 17-game season.

"To stay alive for as long as we did and then kind of get the ball rolling in the last quarter, that's huge," center Corey Linsley said.

Linsley later added: "I feel like if you try to change too much and try to flip the script, guys are kind of like, 'What are you really about?' That's something he's done a really god job of, just being consistent and being himself. Good, bad, indifferent, whatever … it's about being authentic and being the person you are. He's done a good job of that."

Drue Tranquill said: "The speed of the leader determines the speed and path of the organization. If you don't have a steady leader, things are going to be shaky. When we were in some unfortunate situations — guys go down with injuries, we lose a tough game in Las Vegas and we're 6-6 —his steadiness gave us a chance down the stretch to come together as a team and do the things necessary to win. You have to tip your cap to him."

Staley is just days away from his postseason debut as a head coach. He expressed his excitement Tuesday for the chance to coach in the dance.

"It's really special. You dream your whole life to be able to compete at the highest level in sports," Staley said. "That was always my dream, as a young kid, was to be able to compete at the highest level in sports, and to be on this type of stage where the best of the best are in one tournament, that's where you want to be.

"I've experienced being in the playoffs before at the other places that I've been. That is certainly the case when you make it to the playoffs," Staley added. "It's the very best players, the very best teams, the very best coaches, the very best organizations. That's where you find out a lot about where you are. We're excited that we're here."

Staley's guidance certainly helped the Chargers during the 2022 season, as he showed time and time again the leadership needed to help steer a team to the postseason.

And there might not have been a better example of that than a moment in an empty locker room back in mid-November.

"We knew, based on how we played in that game, that we could do anything as a football team," Staley said. "We gained a lot of confidence from that game and it certainly set the course for the second half of the season."

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