The LA Chargers saw their season end on Sunday Night Football after a Daniel Carlson field goal gave the Las Vegas Raiders the win in overtime. The Raiders advanced to the playoffs while the Chargers have to spend the next nine months wondering what could have been if they made the playoffs.
There were a lot of crazy (and downright bad) things that happened to the Chargers in this game and the one decision that is getting picked apart the most is Brandon Staley's timeout call in overtime. With the game tied after the two teams kicked a field goal, it looked like we might have actually seen the unthinkable tie that would have resulted in both teams making the playoffs.
The Chargers just had to get a stop on defense and they couldn't. They let the Raiders convert a huge third and six behind a great throw by Derek Carr and the Raiders found themselves in Chargers territory. However, it was still too far for a field goal.
The Raiders ran the ball on second and 11 from the Chargers' 46 yard-line and picked up seven yards to make it third and six from the Chargers 39. After letting the clock bleed all the way to 38 seconds, Brandon Staley called the timeout that has been criticized by just about everyone in the NFL media.
Brandon Staley's timeout is not the reason why the Chargers lost. In fact, it was the right call.
Admittedly, I was heated in the moment and was screaming at my television when Staley called the timeout. However, it is clear that this was the right thing for the Chargers to do to give themselves the best chance to make the playoffs, which in this case, would have been a tie.
Raiders head coach Rich Bisaccia admitted in his post-game press conference that they were talking about the possibility of letting the game go to a tie. He said things changed when Josh Jacobs broke off a big run and put the team in advantageous field-goal range. Were the Raiders to get stuffed at the Chargers' 39 it probably would have been a different story. The Raiders would have been attempting a 56-yard field goal and at that point, it probably would have been better statistically to just let the clock bleed out for the tie rather than missing it and giving the Chargers a short field.
This much more realistic situation likely explains what Austin Ekeler asked Raiders long-snapper Trent Sieg after the game. It looks like Ekeler asked if the Raiders were going to kneel and based on his response, it looks like Sieg said yes. Some are pointing to this as proof that the Raiders would have kneeled on third down if it was not for the timeout, but that is highly unlikely.
The Raiders were lined up in shotgun with Josh Jacobs in the backfield and the slot receiver in motion. Do you really think they would have kneeled the ball there? Plus, Brandon Staley called a timeout with four seconds in the play-clock. It is not like he left much time on the clock for the Raiders to make something happen.
The Raiders were probably going to run an inside zone run and Staley wanted to give his team the best chance to succeed. He called timeout to put the best personnel on the field for the third-down run. He knew that if the Chargers stuffed the run that the Raiders would have probably let it bleed out. He called timeout to give his team the best chance to make that happen and put the ball in their court.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened. I would have liked to see more players in the box but with the Raiders in 11 personnel, they could have easily killed the run play to a pass with zero risk. They could have picked up the first down and win the game, and if it was incomplete, they would have just punted the ball away to essentially ensure the tie. So you cannot fault the Chargers for not totally stacking the box, especially considering the Raiders did that exact same thing against the Ravens earlier this season.
That right there is why the Chargers didn't just flood the box on the last play and send the house.
Some critics have called out the fact that the Chargers took Kenneth Murray off the field and that Staley was not putting his best group out there by taking out an inside linebacker. Any critic who says that obviously has not watched the Chargers this year. Every single Charger fan knows that the best version of the team is without Murray on the field. That is why it was so frustrating that he played on third down so much in the game.
That, quite frankly, is just a lazy take. Someone sees that he is an inside linebacker and assumes he should be on the field to stop the run. Again, anyone who has watched the Chargers this year knows the reality of the situation.
All in all, the Chargers lost because of failed execution on third down runs, which is really quite fitting considering how the team has played this season.