Sunday felt like a game that the Chargers should have and could have won, but what has made them suffer in the past resurfaced. In the 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Chargers were eaten up by penalties and costly mistakes.
The Chargers committed two turnovers and 12 penalties for 99 yards, but it was the way everything went down that made it a head-scratching game.
On the opening drive for the Chargers, they were already down 7-0, but while driving up the field, quarterback Justin Herbert looked left and saw receiver Keenan Allen open, but cornerback Trevon Diggs undercut the route and picked off the pass.
"Keenan ran a good route," Herbert admitted. "That's it's just on me to make a better throw a better decision."
There were six penalties called on the next offensive drive, including a 15-yard taunting penalty on Allen. He had been tackled to the ground, and the linebacker Bradlee Anae dug his forearm into the receiver's head, so he let the referee and the player hear it. The penalty didn't matter because the Chargers ended up scoring a touchdown.
Right before the half, the offense drove to the Dallas 26-yard line, but Tristan Vizcaino missed a 44-yard field goal, and to make matters worse, backup tackle Trey Pipkins got a face mask penalty called, so Dallas got the ball at the 49-yard line.
Dak Prescott hit receiver CeeDee Lamb for a couple of yards, but bad tackle attempts by Kemon Hall and Kenneth Murray let him spring free for 34-yards and had a visible path to the end zone. He decides to pitch it to running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is close to running it into the end zone, but Derwin James was able to push him out of bounds.
"In all three phases of the game, we lost this game as a team," said head coach Brandon Staley. "We didn't play a clean enough game to win. Our guys competed, we played together, but we did not play in clean enough football to beat that team."
Coming out of halftime, the Chargers had the ball at their own 37 when Herbert threw a missile at Williams for 31 yards, but the referee called an illegal man downfield penalty on right guard Oday Aboushi. Questionable.
"There were 20 penalties in the game, winning between both teams, so they felt like a preseason game, to be quite honest with you, and so that was just the way the game was being officiated today," said Staley.
The following two drives got out of control.
In the first one with 1:24 left in the third quarter, Herbert faked the handoff, rolled left, and found a wide-open Donald Parham for a walk-in 36-yard touchdown, but there was a holding call on tight end Jared Cook that yanked them back ten yards. It ended in a field goal by Vizcaino.
During the final drive of the Chargers on offense, they got the ball to the Cowboys two-yard line when Herbert jumped on the ball, snapped it, and threw a touchdown pass to Cook, but there was yet another flag. The referees said that Williams and Cook were in motion and never reset.
"We had, first of all, the team coming to the line of scrimmage to get set," referee Tony Corrente said. "And as the wide receiver on the offensive left side began in motion, the offensive receiver on the right side was still moving around. He was not in a set position. All 11 players have to be set simultaneously, at least for a second, before they can go into a shift, or they can go into motion. Well, what happened here was, this player went into motion without his whole team being fully set at that point. So, you had two receivers never reset to allow the formation to become legal."
It didn't count because two players were in motion, and they didn't get set. A couple of plays later, Allen slipped on a route in the end zone with Herbert throwing it, and Damontae Kazee intercepted it.
"We just had some, some calls and some penalties that got brought back and some turnovers, and I can't turn the ball over in the red zone like that and expect to win," Herbert said. "That's a pretty good offense we're going up against, so we got to put in more points."
After a Vizcaino field goal to tie things up at 17, the Bolts left too much time on the clock for the Cowboys. They would move up the field and set themselves up for a 56-yard Greg Zuerlein game winning field goal. His 11th of his career.
It was the first loss in the Brandon Staley era.
"What we need to do is learn why we lost and then be able to come back tomorrow, get rested up, okay, and learn from it," said Staley. "But I was proud of the way we competed in the game."