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Takeaways From Chargers' 31-30 Wild Card Round Loss to Jaguars

What are the main takeaways we learned from the Chargers' Wild Card Round loss to the Jaguars?

The Jaguars produced an improbable comeback to beat the Chargers 31-30 Saturday night at TIAA Bank Field in the Wild Card Round.

Here are takeaways from the Chargers' devastating loss that ended their season:

Asante Samuel Jr.'s career game gets wiped away by epic collapse

The Chargers defense came out of the gates swinging, picking off Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence four times in the first half, including three interceptions from cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in his first postseason game.

Samuel's interception hat trick placed him in rare territory. He became the first player with three interceptions in a single postseason game since Ty Law in the 2003 AFC Championship vs. Indianapolis.

Lawrence was haunted in the first half by Samuel's ball-hawking ability. Through the first two quarters, Lawrence completed just 10-of-27 passes for 77 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. 

However, just when everything fell in favor of the Chargers in the first half, the final two quarters took a turn for the worst that ultimately changed the outcome of the game in which the Jaguars orchestrated an improbable comeback to advance to the Division Round.

Chargers win takeaway margin, but still blow 27-point lead

With four interceptions and one fumble recovery, the Chargers finished the game plus five in the takeaway margin, a strong sentiment in which they forced takeaways and didn’t turn the ball over on offense.

But despite commanding such a wide margin in one of the key statistics that generally leads to good results, the Chargers allowed a 27-point lead slip through their hands.

"We just didn't play clean enough football in the second half in all three phases," Chargers coach Brandon Staley said of what allowed Jacksonville back in the game. "We didn't score the ball or possess it well enough on defense. We had far too many penalties in the second half that really hurt us and didn't play well enough in the red area, didn't perform well there in the two minute at the end of the game."

The Chargers became the first team in postseason history to be plus five in the turnover margin and lose. Previously, they were 17-0 all-time with a plus five turnover margin or better.

With 3:18 left in the second quarter as the game sat at 27-0, the Chargers held a 98.8% chance of winning, per Next Gen Stats. The Jaguars' late-game heroics goes down as the fifth-most improbable comeback of the season, according to the metrics.

There's not many other ways to sum up what occurred at TIAA Bank Field Saturday night other than the Chargers collapsed after getting out to a commanding lead.

"Anytime you're up 27-7 at halftime and you've got four takeaways and you end up winning the takeaway margin, it's going to be a killer," Staley said. "I'm hurting for everybody in that locker room. It's a special group of guys. This is the toughest way that you can lose in the playoffs."

Offense disappeared in the second half

After scoring 27 points in the first half, the Chargers only added three more points in the second half with Cameron Dicker's 50-yard field goal. Dicker also missed a 40-yard attempt with 8:47 left in the fourth quarter.

In holding a double-digit lead for most of the second half, the Chargers possessed the ball on four drives in which they ended with a field goal, missed field goal and two punts. They simply lost their rhythm passing and couldn’t run the ball to eat time off the clock.

Running back Austin Ekeler didn’t have any rushing yards in the second half and the Chargers ran the ball just eight time in the final two quarters.

"It was frustrating," Staley said of the running game. "Just didn't have enough success at the line of scrimmage and not enough yards after contact. Just didn't play a good second half of football in any phase.

"Certainly, when you have that type of lead, if you can possess the ball effectively enough, then there won't be enough time, and we just didn't do that, and then didn't score the ball either."

The Chargers entered the game thin at wide receiver and they finished the game even thiner at wide receiver, which surely didn’t help their offense. 

Mike Williams didn’t make the trip to Jacksonville after suffering a fracture in his back in last week's Week 18 game that had no playoff seeding implications. The Chargers proceeded to not elevate any wide receiver from the practice squad ahead of Saturday's Wild Card game and after DeAndre Carter exited the contest with an ankle injury and didn’t return, the only wide receivers available were Keenan Allen, Joshua Palmer and Michael Bandy.

Herbert was 10-of-19 for 134 yards in the second half.

"A tough go for us. As an offense, we need to do more in the second half," Herbert said. "I feel horrible for the defense for the incredible effort they put out there today."

Joey Bosa's reckless behavior forced a game-altering penalty

Joey Bosa, in his third game back from a groin injury that forced him to miss 12 games, did the team no favors down the stretch with a lack of discipline.

Bosa drew two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and the last one turned out to be of great significance. The officials flagged Bosa the second time after he was visibly frustrated for a no-call that he thought should’ve been a false start on Jaguars offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor. Jacksonville scored a touchdown on the play with 5:25 left.

"I think he felt like there were a bunch of things that kind of accumulated throughout the game and tried to talk through it with the officials," Staley said of Bosa. "But we can't lose our composure like that. We need to make sure that we stay on the high side of things, and we can't hurt the team that way."

Bosa walked near the sideline and slammed his helmet down with both hands, drawing his second of two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the night. Staley picked up the helmet, handed it to Bosa before he slammed it to the turf for the second time.

As the Jaguars were given the opportunity to gain the free yardage on the point after attempt or on the kickoff, Jaguars coach Doug Pederson elected to take the additional 1-yard and attempt a two-point conversion in which they converted, making it a 30-28 game just one drive before hitting the game-winning field goal.

Pederson, after the game was questioned if he would've gone for the two-point try if Bosa hadn’t drawn a penalty, and he responded by saying "probably not."

Questions swirl what the loss means for Brandon Staley and Tom Telesco's future

The Chargers finished the regular season with a 10-7 record and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2018. But is that enough to keep Staley and Telesco's jobs safe?

The handling of the team's Week 18 game, playing the starters despite the end result having no impact on what that meant for playoff seeding, clearly came back to bite them when Williams was unable to play in the postseason.

They're also on the wrong side of the record books, as the Chargers' devastating loss to the Jaguars marked the third-largest comeback in playoff history. 

The franchise now enters an offseason with a multitude of questions. Are they confident to run it back with the same decision-makers despite having spent more money in an offseason than ever before and not having a playoff win to show for? Or is it time to look ahead and bring in a new head coach and general manager?

Speculations looms large, but decisions won't be made until Staley and Telesco sit down with ownership for an end-of-season evaluation.

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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.