Was Coach Brandon Staley actually to blame for the Chargers’ Week 18 OT Loss?
In a “win and you’re in” season finale, Los Angeles Chargers head coach, Brandon Staley, was blamed by analysts across the country for his controversial timeout call in the final minutes of overtime in the Chargers’ 32-35 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Down 29-14 with under 5 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, QB Justin Herbert converted a 4th and 21 to rookie WR Josh Palmer for a touchdown followed by a 2-point conversion to RB Austin Ekeler to cut the lead to 29-22. After milking the clock as much as possible, Las Vegas punted the ball back to Los Angeles where the Chargers began their final drive of regulation on their own 17-yard line with under 2 minutes to work with.
QB Justin Herbert converted a 4th and 10 to WR Keenan Allen with 1:44 left and with 1:06 left on another 4th and 10 threw a ball intended for TE Jared Cook that was broken up by Las Vegas CB Tre’von Moehrig who was called for a 5-yard (automatic first-down) holding penalty that kept Herbert’s improbable come-back drive alive. After converting a first down to reach the Raiders’ 43-yard line, Las Angeles found themselves in another 4th and 10 with 21 seconds remaining.
To nobody’s surprise, Herbert completed a 13-yard pass to WR Mike Williams and Los Angeles used their final timeout of regulation. With just 10 seconds remaining from the Las Vegas 29-yard line, Herbert completed a 17-yard pass to WR Jalen Guyton to give Los Angeles one last shot at the end zone to send the game to overtime. To finish off one of the most unpredictable, incomprehensible drives in NFL history, on the 19th play of the drive with just 5 seconds left on the game clock, Herbert completed a 12-yard TD pass to a double-covered 6’4 Mike Williams as time expired to tie the score 29-29 (given the extra-point).
Now to OT.
After exchanging field goals to tie the score at 32-32, Las Vegas had possession of the ball for the second time in overtime at the 2-minute warning. With the ball on the Los Angeles 45-yard line, Las Vegas was out of field goal range so interim head coach Rich Bisaccia called back-to-back run plays as it appeared he was content with running the clock out and ending in a tie. Shocking NBC’s commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth just as he did the entire world, Brandon Staley called a timeout on 3rd and 4 with 38 seconds left and the ball on the Los Angeles 39-yard line. So, why call the timeout?
“We needed to get in the right grouping… we wanted to get our best 11 personnel run defense in, make that substitution so we could get a play where we would deepen the field goal,” Staley told media after the game. This “best 11 personnel run defense” was all about one mammoth of a man: DT Linval Joseph. At 6’4 and 323lbs, Joseph is easily one of the top run stoppers in the entire NFL and he was not on the field when Staley called the game-changing timeout.
At the time of the timeout, it would have been a 56-yard field goal for a very consistent K Daniel Carlson. Putting myself in Staley’s shoes, knowing Las Vegas has an incredible kicker on their sideline who will most definitely attempt the field goal whether we stop them or not on 3rd down, I would want to get my best run personnel on the field in order to increase the distance of the field goal and make coach Bisaccia really think about whether he should kick it or not.
Had Las Vegas truly been content with running the clock out, they would have walked out on 3rd down and set-up in “victory formation” and kneeled the ball as there were 38 seconds remaining. When coach Staley noticed they had lined up to run the ball, he called timeout to put his team in the best position to stop whatever Las Vegas called. Unfortunately, Staley and the Chargers did not execute the proper run defense and RB Josh Jacobs broke free for the game sealing run that set-up Carlson’s game-winning field goal. However, to say that Staley’s timeout was the reason Los Angeles lost that game is completely out of bounds.
*Side Note for analysts like Rex Ryan who have criticized Staley for his decision making: In 2007, the Baltimore Ravens (coached by Rex Ryan) played the New England Patriots in Tom Brady’s “perfect season” year. On 4th and 1 with the game on the line, while his Ravens led Tom Brady’s Patriots with under 2 minutes remaining in regulation, Ryan inexplicably called a timeout. On that 4th and 1, before the timeout was called, Ray Lewis had stopped Brady’s offense and everyone thought the game was over. Ryan likely regrets this decision to this day. Everyone knows what Brady did with that second chance opportunity as he led the Patriots to a perfect 16-0 season the rest of the way. Rex Ryan is the last the person to be throwing shade at Brandon Staley.