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The Chargers blew a lead and maybe also Brandon Staley’s job security

How to go from playoff win to hot seat in 30 minutes, featuring head coach Brandon Staley and the LA Chargers.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Staley was perhaps the hottest name on the head coaching market in 2021, right after leading the LA Rams to the number one defense in his first season as a defensive coordinator. Two years later as head coach of the LA Chargers, on the heels of blowing a 27-0 lead to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Saturday night’s wild card game, Staley is now sitting on the hottest seat in the NFL.

With the Chargers knocked out of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion, following two seasons of questionable decisions and underwhelming results with a stacked roster, does Staley even have a chance to still be a head coach in 24 hours?

He does not seem to have many supporters left, if he even had that many remaining going into the game.

Staley could have had his choice of a number of jobs two years ago and probably chose the Chargers in part because of the team’s loaded roster, deep pockets, star quarterback in Justin Herbert, and the likelihood that they were finally on the precipice of making a deep playoff run.

His first season was littered with controversial coaching decisions and the Chargers missed the playoffs with a 9-8 record, losing three of their last four games. In fact, four of the last five games that L.A. lost in 2021 were to coaches who no longer have jobs: Mike Zimmer’s Vikings, Vic Fangio’s Broncos, David Culley’s Texans, and Jon Gruden’s Raiders.

Offseason push

The Chargers were intent on being a more dominant team in 2022, trading for All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack, signing Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson, and drafting guard Zion Johnson in the first round to help protect Herbert. The expectations for Staley’s Chargers were high this year, and that’s what he signed up for by accepting the job as L.A.’s head coach, but then the Chargers fell to a 6-6 record after a Week 13 loss to the Raiders.

With questions and skepticism always following Staley during his short tenure with the Chargers because of decisions often cited with an over-reliance on analytics, there was already reason to believe that the franchise could fire him after only two seasons if LA missed the AFC playoffs. Staley’s Chargers responded by winning the next four games.

Then the roller coaster took a dip again.

Week 18 ramifications

Staley’s decision to play starters in a Week 18 game against the Denver Broncos that most expected to be meaningless — except Staley — star wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a back injury that caused him to miss Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game. And the Chargers still lost to the Broncos, 31-28. To the 5-12 Broncos.

There was already talk before the game that Staley could be fired if LA lost to the Jaguars, with the Chargers probably having the fire power and appeal to attract the very popular Sean Payton right now, but then he appeared to drop the mic on those critics. The Chargers intercepted Trevor Lawrence four times in the first half, three by Asante Samuel, and Staley’s team took an early 27-0 lead on the road.

He dropped the mic too soon.

And then came the Jaguars game ...

Whether Williams would have made a difference in the game or not is up for debate, as giving up 24 points to Jacksonville in the second half and four touchdown passes to Lawrence after his nightmare start is definitely an issue that will haunt Staley forever, but control of the game and his players seemed to be out the head coach’s grasp well before the final game-winning field goal for the Jaguars.

The Chargers were out-played in every facet of the game that didn’t include Samuel making elite cornerback plays in the first 20 minutes. Staley was out-coached moment after moment by Jacksonville’s Doug Pederson. Once considered the fastest-rising defensive guru in all of pro football, Staley’s defense was burned for 109 rushing yards by Travis Etienne and Lawrence threw touchdowns to four different players.

With a defensive roster featuring top tier players like Derwin James, Joey Bosa, Samuel, and Mack, Staley’s Chargers got picked apart by a Jaguars team that only managed six points against the Texans in Week 5, 14 points against the Lions in Week 13, and just 20 points against the Titans one week earlier.

Whatever ammunition Staley critics needed to complete their argument for the LA Chargers to make a change at head coach after the season, they completely reloaded after he choked away a 27-0 lead in the second half.

What’s next for Staley and the Chargers?

Staley was a hot free agent coach two years ago. He might be back on the market much sooner than anyone anticipated.