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AFC Wild Card: Chargers blow 27-point lead in loss to Jaguars

Head coach Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars embrace on the field after defeating the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

K’Lavon Chaisson #45 of the Jacksonville Jaguars pressures Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars throws a pass against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Riley Patterson #10 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrates with teammates after kicking a field goal to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars dives for a two point conversion against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts during the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Evan Engram #17 of the Jacksonville Jaguars carries the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Evan Engram #17 of the Jacksonville Jaguars carries the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Riley Patterson #10 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrates with teammates after kicking a field goal to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers carries the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Keenan Allen #13 of the Los Angeles Chargers reacts after a play against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Keenan Allen #13 of the Los Angeles Chargers carries the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers throws a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Asante Samuel Jr. #26 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Gerald Everett #7 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates with Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers after scoring a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers rushes for a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first quarter of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Asante Samuel Jr. #26 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Asante Samuel Jr. #26 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates with teammates after an interception against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers looks to pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Foyesade Oluokun #23 of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts after a play against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers looks on at the line of scrimmage against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on at the line of scrimmage against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

A general view during the national anthem prior to a game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Chargers prepare to take the field prior to a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Matt Feiler #71 of the Los Angeles Chargers prepares to take the field prior to a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

Evan Engram #17 of the Jacksonville Jaguars warms up prior to a game against the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Justin Herbert sat in one corner of a nearly silent Chargers’ locker room, alone with his thoughts, still in his full uniform. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what he was thinking after they bungled a commanding first-half lead, dropping a 31-30 decision in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ laps.

Derwin James Jr. stood in another corner of the cramped overheated room, still dressed, trying to make sense of what seemed like an almost certain AFC wild-card victory at halftime that turned so suddenly, so remarkably in the Jaguars’ favor in the second half, especially in the closing minutes.

“You won’t ever forget this as a competitor,” Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill said, perhaps speaking for all of his teammates after so much went so right for one half and went so wrong for the second, the one that ended up meaning so much for both teams, in the final analysis.

“When it’s 27-0, you fully expect to win the game on the defense, and we didn’t do that,” he added. “It shouldn’t matter what the offense does. Or the special teams do. When you’re up 27-0, you should win the game defensively. … As coach Staley was saying earlier in the week, ‘We have to make them beat us.’

“We beat ourselves.”

Herbert directed the Chargers to a 27-0 lead in the second quarter, taking advantage of five takeaways, including four interceptions of Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Tranquill had one interception and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. had a hat trick of sorts, with three.

The Chargers’ momentum, their lead and their composure would not last, however. Lawrence regained his confidence and his passing touch after a first half in which he had completed as many passes to the Chargers (four) as he had to his Jacksonville teammates.

“As an offense, we need to do more in the second half,” Herbert would later say. “It falls on us as an offense. I need to perform better. I feel horrible for the defense for the incredible effort they put up.”

Lawrence’s 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Engram with 24 seconds left in the half gave a hint of what was to come in the second half. The Jaguars built on the momentum of that late drive and Lawrence hit Marvin Jones Jr. and Zay Jones for third-quarter touchdowns.

Soon enough, it was a game again.

The Chargers simply couldn’t seal the deal, getting only a 50-yard field goal from Cameron Dicker in the second half. Dicker later missed a 40-yard field goal wide left that could have given the Chargers a 33-20 lead with 8:51 remaining in the game, and it would prove to be a pivotal miss.

Lawrence’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Christian Kirk with 5:25 left and 2-point conversion run trimmed the Chargers’ lead to 30-28. Lawrence then drove the Jaguars down the field for Riley Patterson’s game-winning, 36-yard field goal as time expired, after the Chargers went three and out on their final possession.

The Jaguars were elated, the Chargers deflated.

“I’ve been playing football for 21 years and I’ve never felt like this,” James said.

Edge rusher Joey Bosa said he could feel a sense of dread despite the big lead.

“I’ve been here a lot where we get ahead a lot and we get comfortable and, boom, it’s the fourth quarter and it’s the final drive and they’re kicking a field goal,” he said. “It would be nice to go and fix things for next week, but it’s not the case. There’s a lot I do want to say because at the end of the day it’s on us.”

Bosa lost his composure twice, drawing unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, the second of which enabled the Jaguars to gain one yard after Kirk’s touchdown reception and setting the stage for Lawrence’s quarterback sneak for the 2-point conversion that made it 30-28 with 5;25 to play.

“I think the cynic in me had a little bit of that sense in the back of my mind,” Bosa said. “Because I’ve been there. It’s hard to dominate a whole NFL game. You get up, you get comfortable and then, boom, two touchdowns or whatever and it’s the end of the game. Obviously, there were mistakes all around.

“Just little things. I can hardly remember the game. It’s kind of a blur.”

Lawrence’s ability to regroup and refocus at halftime played a huge role in the third-largest playoff comeback in NFL history. At one point, he ended the first quarter 4 for 13 for 30 yards with three interceptions, and was facing a 17-0 deficit. By game’s end, he was 28 for 47 for 288 yards and four TDs.

“Anytime you’re up 27-7 at halftime and you’ve got (five) takeaways, and you end up winning the takeaway margin, it’s going to be a killer,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “I’m hurting for everybody in that locker room. It’s a special group of guys. This is the toughest way you can lose.”

 

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