COSTA MESA, Calif. — The sport clock inside of a rocking FirstEnergy Stadium learn 1:14, and Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley wanted to decide.
Leading the Cleveland Browns, 30-28, and going through fourth-and-1 from their own 46-yard line, must the Bolts punt, and provides their protection the alternative to forestall the Browns, who had no timeouts ultimate.
Or must the ball stay in the palms of Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert for a last play that might seal a victory?
Staley, in a transfer that is come to outline his 22-game tenure as head coach, went for it.
“No. 23 on 81,” Staley described of the matchup that Herbert would goal — cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. on large receiver Mike Williams. “We liked it.”
Herbert’s go fell incomplete. The Browns took over and complicated the ball 10 yards, however kicker Cade York — who previous this season made a 58-yard strive — ignored a possible game-winning 54-yard box objective large proper.
The Chargers progressed to 3-2 forward of a Monday Night Football matchup in opposition to the 2-3 Denver Broncos (8:15 p.m. ESPN, ESPN+), however Staley’s late-game resolution left many — together with Chargers Pro Bowl large receiver Keenan Allen — wondering the resolution.
“WTF are we doing,” Allen wrote in a since-deleted tweet as he watched the sport from house, nursing a nagging damage to his left hamstring.
Other Chargers gamers, then again, were not stunned.
“This is no surprise,” operating again Austin Ekeler mentioned an afternoon later. “It’s still Brandon Staley we’re talking about here.”
Last season, in Staley’s first as an NFL head coach — a task he landed 5 years after serving as the defensive coordinator at Division III John Carroll University — he boldly started forging his identification as a pace-setter in what he was hoping could be a brand new trail for the suffering Bolts.
“What I’m doing is I’m trying to make the decisions that I think are going to win us the game – that are going to win us the game,” Staley mentioned final December, together with his staff neatly on its method to main the NFL in price of fourth-down conversion makes an attempt (32%). “I’m ready to live with all that smoke that comes with it.”
Despite lacking the playoffs final season and completing with a 9-8 file, Staley’s mindset hasn’t modified in Year 2.
“He’s a guy who is going to leave it all out on the line, he’s going to let his players play and he’s not going to hold anything back,” Allen mentioned earlier than the season.
Said Williams: “We love that. Our coach, he knows what he has here on this team.”
Bring the questions. Bring the remark. Bring the warmth. This is how the 39-year-old Staley desires his Chargers to be triumphant or fade once more into irrelevancy.
“You just have to have conviction in what you believe in and also be transparent with your process, not feel defensive or insecure about it,” Staley mentioned of his decision-making. “I understand that there should be scrutiny on all of the decisions that we make. It’s pro sports.”
Since his arrival in January 2021, Staley has tried to revamp the Chargers’ tradition and instilled one motto round the observe facility: “Our Way.” It’s their catch-all slogan that you will not to find plastered to the partitions or published on T-shirts, however gamers recite it and know the that means.
“His thing is about relationships, communication and performance,” staff captain and defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day mentioned.
“He believes that comes from the heart and it’s more genuine and authentic,” All-Pro protection Derwin James Jr. mentioned about Staley’s motto.
Simple sufficient, but it is a consistent paintings in development for a franchise that should give you the option to be related in overdue January, coupled with unending questions on Staley’s playcalling dispositions.
“The culture has changed,” mentioned Allen, the staff’s longest-tenured participant at 10 years. “We’re transitioning into a winning organization.”
The Chargers have by no means received a Super Bowl, can declare one AFC name from 1994 and feature made one playoff look in the final 8 seasons. And, whether or not it is through success, particular groups, or last-second performs, the Chargers’ level differential has underperformed when compared to their yardage differential in 9 instantly seasons.
Staley admits when he arrived there used to be a sense the franchise lived on the cusp of coming near near doom — an damage, a blown lead, an inevitable cave in, a “Chargering thing,” as Staley described to The Athletic.
But the head coach has insisted he may not subscribe to that.
“Curses are a part of the imagination. When you talk about topics like that, that’s just what someone wants you to believe,” Staley mentioned. “The way that you change that is that you join up with the right people that don’t believe that, that aren’t affected by challenges, obstacles, adversity.”
Throughout an offseason makeover, the Chargers upgraded their offense and protection. They introduced in particular gamers — together with six who Staley had historical past with in 3 earlier NFL roles.
They traded a moment and sixth-round pick out to the Chicago Bears to achieve All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack — who Staley coached as a defensive assistant for a season in Chicago and anticipated to suppose a management function in L.A.
“The time we had in Chicago we were able to see each other up close for what it really was,” Mack mentioned. “A lot of vulnerable moments, a lot of honest moments.”
“I understand that there should be scrutiny on all of the decisions that we make. It’s pro sports.”
And the Bolts signed playmakers in loose company, together with cornerback J.C. Jackson, defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day and tight finish Gerald Everett. They even shored up a shaky particular groups unit through signing or re-signing each and every in their consultants.
“That’s the thing about pro football, is you need to pick who you plays for you and that’s how I know how to do it, is to join up with the right guys,” Staley mentioned. “That’s the secret is you create something new with people who can do it and who have what it takes and who you believe in …
“Why I used to be so intentional about the staff construction factor is that to create a tradition when there is none, you will have to be in a position to do it with the proper other people.”
And yet, somehow, the Chargers’ old problems seem to creep back in.
Through five games they’ve dealt with a slew of injuries. They’ve lost a winnable game to the Chiefs. They’ve been embarrassed at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater has been placed on injured reserve and will be out for the season. Edge rusher Joey Bosa also is on injured reserve, though there’s optimism about his return late in the season. Quarterback Justin Herbert is playing through fractured rib cartilage and his top pass-catcher, Allen, has been sidelined four weeks because of his injury.
They were tied early in the fourth quarter, with a win probability of 73%, on the road at a raucous Arrowhead Stadium against the division-rival Kansas City Chiefs — until Herbert threw a pass that was intercepted and returned 99 yards for a touchdown in a 27-24 loss. And the following week, the Bolts failed to show in a 38-10 embarrassment against the Jacksonville Jaguars at home.
At 1-2 and drowning in a sea of injuries, the Chargers — billed during the preseason to be among favorites to make a deep playoff run, didn’t appear by the end of September to live up to the hype. October began with a necessary 34-24 win at the Houston Texans, which kept them afloat, but didn’t exactly produce confidence. Then it was on to Cleveland, a back-and-forth matchup that ultimately went L.A.’s way — a result overshadowed by days of debate over Staley’s decision-making.
Expect Staley’s philosophies around such decisions to continue to fuel debate.
The Chargers have gone for it 11 times this season, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. They’ve converted 45%, which is 19th-best, with a league average of 48.9%.
“We’re going to imagine in what we do and the way we do it,” Staley said. “That’s been my message to our staff the entire time I’ve been here, and that is the reason what I’m going to proceed to do. I simply assume it is an more uncomplicated method to reside.”
Last Sunday, there was no sign of a curse. In fact, luck appeared to be on the Chargers’ side.
Staley went for it at the back of a questionable playcall to go regardless of Ekeler notching a career-high 173 dashing yards.
“We were trying to seal out the game and leave no doubt by getting one yard. I liked the call,” Ekeler mentioned. “He believes in us. I love that.”
Staley’s resolution, coupled with the playcall — which offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi later expressed feel sorry about making, did not figure out, however the Bolts escaped with a victory.
In the aftermath, regardless of one recognized loud critic, others persisted to pledge their complete improve.
“I’m going to ride with him, regardless of whatever the decision was or the reason behind it was,” Joseph-Day mentioned.
Even if it is thru all the smoke.