COSTA MESA – The Chargers emptied out their lockers Sunday afternoon at the team headquarters just hours after facing reality that had settled in following the team's 31-30 Wild Card Round loss to the Jaguars that ended their season.
Surely, it hits hard at the end of each season for players all around the league. With all the work they put in from OTAs, training camp and the rigorous schedule of the NFL season, it's never easy. But the way in which the Chargers went out, blowing a 27-point lead, that marked the third-largest in playoff history, it served as the ultimate gut punch for everybody involved.
"Obviously, it's not the way we wanted to end the year," quarterback Justin Herbert said. "Really, only one team is happy at the end of the year."
Even a day later, it seemed players were still in a form of shock. They still couldn’t fathom just how the organization's first playoff game in four years unraveled on them in the second half the way it did.
The loss has brought on increased speculation regarding the job security of head coach Brandon Staley. But players shouldered the brunt of the devastating loss and not only spoke highly about Staley, but articulated their thoughts in a way that they wanted to make their message abundantly clear – they want Staley back for the 2023 season.
"As players, we have to make the plays," running back Austin Ekeler said. "I was telling my running backs coach [Derrick Foster], 'You set up everything for me. I have to make the cut. You can't make the cut for me. I have to see what's in front of me. I have to make it happen.' They put us in position to make the plays."
Many of the Chargers' marquee players, from Herbert, Derwin James, Joey Bosa and several others, all took a clear stance on why they believe Staley is the right man for the job.
“We believe in coach Staley and the front office 100%," Herbert said. "Everyone would be lucky to have a coach like Staley. He’s been an incredible leader. He’s got the respect of everyone on our team."
Herbert continued to back his coach, explaining what he likes about Staley's coaching style.
“He’s genuine. He’s himself and we believe in him, and he’s been the same person the past two years," Herbert added. "It didn’t go our way this year, but we took a big step forward and we believe in this coaching staff, this team, we’ve got the right pieces, we’ve just got to put them together. We’ve got to execute better.”
James picked up right where Herbert left off, going as far to say he's open to using his voice to the front office to fight for Staley returning in 2023.
"That’s my guy. I feel like he’s put a lot into it and a lot of guys believe in him in the locker room," James said. "I definitely believe in him and he’s going to get it right.”
Bosa, who was still visibly upset about the officiating on Saturday night in which his actions resulted in two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, voiced his reasoning for why Staley should remain at the helm.
“I get a little frustrated [when people say], ‘Why did he call this? Why did he do that?’" Bosa said. "Because why did I slam my helmet on the floor when he picked it up for me and tried to calm me down and get me in order and I grabbed it from him and threw it on the ground again? How is that his fault? That’s my fault."
Bosa also highlighted the team's surplus of injuries this season in which Staley guided them past the adversity throughout the middle part of the year.
“Staley, he got us to the playoffs against all odds," Bosa said. "That was a rough season and a lot of us were out, me included. I wish I could have helped more."
Staley didn’t meet with the media, but was in the building Sunday, holding exit interviews with players on an individual basis. Roughly 10 players spoke in the locker room and the overall sense in the building is that they haven’t wavered on Staley. He still commands the respect of the players and all indications are they want him returning as head coach for the 2023 season.
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Read more from Charger Report:
- Takeaways From Chargers' 31-30 Wild Card Round Loss vs. Jaguars
- Chargers Collapse in Wild Card Round vs. Jaguars, Blow 27-Point Lead
- Live In-Game Updates: Chargers at Jaguars Wild Card Round
- Pregame Report: Chargers at Jaguars
- Chargers at Jaguars Wild Card Round Game Prediction
Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.