Division games are rarely "easy," but the Los Angeles Chargers couldn't afford to lose to the floundering Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. It'd actually be more accurate to say Brandon Staley couldn't afford to lose this game, as some of his coaching decisions factored into the Chargers losing three of four coming into Week 12.
Look no further than Week 11 against the Chiefs, when Staley rolled out the punt team on fourth and inches in the third quarter. The decision begged to come back to haunt the Chargers, and Kansas City fittingly drove right down the field to take the lead.
To Staley's credit, he seemingly learned from his mistakes.
After Justin Herbert connected with Austin Ekeler for a touchdown with 15 seconds left in regulation, Staley was faced with an mind-bending decision: go for two and the win, or kick the extra point and go to overtime and give the Chargers an extra 10 minutes to win the game.
Staley chose correctly, as Herbert hit Gerald Everett over the middle to give the Chargers a 25-24 win at the death, and the head coach might've saved his job in the process.
Brandon Staley saved his job in the Chargers' win over the Cardinals.
It's not crazy to think Staley saved his job with this decision. That's not to say a pink slip would've been waiting at his desk Monday morning, but would anyone have batted an eyelash if the head coach was canned after the Chargers lost a must-win game to an inferior rival to fall to 5-6? With a generational quarterback and stars all over the field? It's those types of losses that get coaches fired at season's end.
After all, a report from ESPN indicated Staley could be on the hot seat if the Chargers miss the playoffs. Going for (and getting) the win on the road against a divisional rival to get back over .500 should definitely help Staley get back in the good graces of ownership ... even if fans still have their reservations about him.
With a Super Bowl champ and respected head coach like Sean Payton reportedly open to taking the Chargers' job if it becomes available, Staley is coaching with immense pressure each week. That might seem unfair given the magnitude of injuries Los Angeles has endured, but it's a results-oriented business, and the Chargers had dropped three of four coming into Sunday, with each loss coming against likely playoff squads.
Thanks to Staley rediscovering his gusto, though, that conversation can be put on ice for now. The Chargers are just one game out of a Wild Card berth, and should be favored in four of the final six games remaining on the schedule.
What a brave call from Staley. It deserved to pay off.