Updated: Jan 12
The board was set, the pieces were moving. A clash of biblical proportions to determine one of the league’s fiercest rivalries. A gut-wrenching climax, as the battle for the last AFC Wild Card spot would come down to the wire.
En route to Reading, England. Weaknesses the Los Angeles Chargers exposed over the past 17 weeks haunted me. Far too many were displayed to be certain of any outcome in this loser-goes-home contest.
At the little desk from where most Chargers games are seen in Reading, it is 1:20 AM. Silence across this stretch of the country. Assessing the lack of growth from my vibrant desk plants over these short, dark days, I took a deep breath and braced myself.
A patter of raindrops from the gloom above punctuated the sinking feeling as Return Specialist Andre Roberts dropped a Punt return that the Raiders recovered.
A Raiders touchdown soon followed.
It was to be only the first of a conglomeration of Chargers banes, mixed to produce a debilitating potion: Kicker Dustin Hopkins brought us back to reality by missing a 50-yard field goal. A mistake, yes, but can one argue too passionately against Hopkins after all he's done to revive our Special Teams unit?
An unbelievable performance by quarterback Justin Herbert was slightly hampered by constant pressure leaking in from the right side of the offensive line. This was plugged ineffectively by Storm Norton, a Reserve Tackle.
It was the defensive performance that left the wound to fester. They could not stop a soul-destroying 3rd & 23 run conversion that injected extra life into the Las Vegas offense. A mind-boggling DPI call on cornerback Chris Harris Jr set the Raiders up sweetly on a 1st & goal which proved costly.
By the end, Los Angeles had been charged over 100 yards in penalties, which left no cause for doubt that much of this downfall was self-inflicted.
While these mistakes could have been avoided, they were the same sort that plagued this team all season: penalties, drops, offensive line pressure and run defense. This 35-32 overtime loss would not have offered any weighting if the Chargers had not buckled in Houston two weeks prior.
Too much had gone wrong to right the ship in time before the storm struck. But was the storm even that frightening?
Out of the despair of this season’s finale emerged one shining light: Justin Herbert. This man’s performance on prime time, with his team’s playoff contention on the line, ended a second record-breaking season. Etching his name into the plinth of quarterback history, he taught people across the world how to give your all to something you love.
A generational talent, Herbert refused to bow. By his leadership, the Chargers would convert multiple 4th downs. He graced us with 3 touchdown passes and 383 total yards, ending his season with over 5,000 awe-inspiring passing yards.
Overall, this 2021 season for the Los Angeles Chargers reinvigorated me with anticipation and infinite excitement for the next. Some may argue this season has been a failure. But in more ways than one, it has been a feat.
Leading into the 2022 season with a winning record and grandiose cap space figure, we have identified not only which aspects of our team need less attention, but also those which cannot be ignored. First year head coach Brandon Staley showed us that grit and aggression--traits not seen in this team for several years—will be part of the Chargers’ new identity.
While the Chargers work to identify strengths and weaknesses, the process of this rebuild, rarely a swift one in the NFL, continues. Staley’s attitude is solidifying in defiance. Throughout the last few months, we have witnessed incredible improvements over last year, enough to illustrate this team is very clearly moving in the right direction.
We must not throw in the towel. In face of this disappointing end, we must contin