SPORTS DIGEST  Second-half flop eliminates Chargers from playoffs

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

So much for changing our perceptions of them. The Chargers had the local sports spotlight to themselves Jan. 14 and did the football equivalent of wetting the bed. 

In a game that was definitely the tale of two halves, the Chargers jumped out to a 27-0 lead against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wild card round of the playoffs and then got beat 31-3 the rest of the way.

Riley Patterson kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired and the Jaguars are advancing in the playoffs while the Chargers try to figure out what happened.

Jacksonville turned the ball over five times — all in the first half. The Chargers didn’t have any turnovers. 

The Chargers scored on four of their first five possessions. The Jaguars didn’t score until the last drive of the first half.

But whatever Jaguar head coach Doug Pederson told his team at halftime worked. The Jaguars scored on every possession of the second half, driving 89, 68 and 70 yards for touchdowns on their first three drives and then going 61 yards in 10 plays over the last 3:09 of the game to win it.

If there was a turning point in the second half it came with 8:47 left in the game when Chargers kicker Cameron Dicker missed a 40-yard field goal. 

The Chargers consumed almost seven minutes of the clock on a 14-play, 58-yard drive. The kick would have given the Chargers a 13-point lead.

Instead, the Jaguars marched 70 yards in nine plays, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence hitting tight end Christian Kirk with the scoring pass and then scoring on a two-point quarterback sneak to cut the Chargers lead to two points. 

The Chargers went three and out and Lawrence drove the Jaguars to the winning field goal, the big play coming on a fourth-and-1 and the Chargers expecting another quarterback sneak from Lawrence. 

Instead, running back Travis Etienne gained 25 yards on a sweep and the Jaguars were in field goal position.

Lawrence outplayed the Chargers’ Justin Herbert in the second half after having a dreadful first half. 

He threw interceptions to end four of the Jaguars’ first six drives. The Chargers five first-half scoring drives went two plays, 12 plays, three plays, 11 plays and four plays.

Once Jacksonville quit turning the ball over, the Chargers couldn’t stop them.

The stats for the two starting quarterbacks were remarkably similar against for the interceptions.

Herbert didn’t throw one. He completed 25 of 43 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown.

Lawrence was 28 of 47 for 288 yards and four touchdowns. 

The difference offensively was the Chargers couldn’t run the ball. Austin Ekeler scored twice but gained only 35 yards on 13 carries. As a team, the Chargers averaged less than three yards each time they tried to run the ball.

Etienne gained 109 yards on 20 carries.

The Chargers played without wide receiver Mike Williams, who injured his back in week 18 in a meaningless game against the Denver Broncos. 

That restarted the criticism of Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, who was criticized during his first season in 2021 for unconventional fourth down attempts and blowing a game against the Las Vegas Raiders in week 18 that cost the Chargers a playoff berth.

He got the Chargers to the playoffs this year, but got outcoached in the second half against Jacksonville and the Chargers will watch the rest of the playoffs from their living rooms, like the rest of us.

Staley seems to have avoided being fired for now, but offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterback coach Shane Day were the fall guys for the Chargers’ collapse. They were fired Jan. 17.

The Chargers should be getting ready to face the Kansas City Chiefs Jan. 21 in Kansas City. Instead, they are looking forward to next season. 

They could have been the talk of Los Angeles for another week. Instead, the second half of the NBA season is here and focus turns to two other teams sure to disappoint us come April.

CLIPPERS STAGGER: For a team that has lost eight of its last 10 games, the Clippers are still well positioned in the NBA’s Western Conference standings. 

The Clippers are a 500 team — 23-23 — but still find themselves tied for sixth place in the west with another .500 team, the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

Who do you want to bet has the best second half?

Both the Warriors and Clippers have had their share of injuries. Steph Curry has missed 14 games for the Warriors. Andrew Wiggins has missed 17.

For the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard has missed 24 games. Paul George has missed 15.

When healthy, both the Clippers and Warriors can play with anybody in the NBA. Fortunately, no team is running away with the Western Conference so far. 

Denver and Memphis are the only teams winning more than 60% of their games. Third-place New Orleans is only four games ahead of the Clippers and Warriors, so there is plenty of time to make up ground.

What the Clippers need the most is to develop a rhythm for playing together. Getting Leonard and George healthy is essential so coach Tyronn Lue can create a rotation that allows the team’s deep bench to make some noise. 

The Clippers have seven players averaging more than 10 points a game and that doesn’t include Terrance Mann, Luke Kennard or Nicolas Batum, all of whom can score in bunches when given the opportunity.

Moses Brown, in his third season out of UCLA, is starting to develop as a solid backup big man to Ivica Zubac, who is averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds as a starting center.

As the trading deadline looms in February, the Clippers might want to get more consistent play out of the point guard position, but overall, they have a solid roster.

Keeping Leonard and George healthy — no easy feat at times — is their most crucial goal as the second half of the season continues.

INCONSISTENT LAKERS: Then there are the Lakers. Inconsistent should be their middle name. 

While the Clippers have lost eight of 10, the Lakers have won six of 10, yet they would miss the play-in tournament if the season was over. But with 38 games remaining over the last three months of the season, the Lakers are only a game away from 10th place in the NBA Western Conference, which would put them in the play-in tournament. The bad thing is the Lakers have to get past three teams to capture 10th place: Oklahoma City, Portland and Phoenix.

It can be done, especially if Anthony Davis’ foot injury heals and he can play at an all-start level.

The Lakers will get interesting over the next month as LeBron James tracks down Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. James scored 35 points against the Philadelphia 76ers Jan. 15 to become the only player except for Abdul-Jabbar to score more than 38,000 career points.

He followed that up with 48 points Jan. 16 against the Houston Rockets, leaving him only 316 points behind Abdul-Jabbar.

With James averaging 29.7 points a game, expect him to break the mark when the Lakers are on the road the first week of February. The Lakers return home against Oklahoma City Feb. 7 and Milwaukee Feb. 9 after a five-game road trip Jan. 29-Feb. 4.

Now in his 20th season, James has been around so long he is now going up against players who are the sons of players he played against when he first came into the league.

Against Houston Jan. 16, he played against Jabari Smith Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr. with both of their fathers in attendance. James played against both fathers. The younger Smith told James during the game his dad played against him in his first NBA game.

“It made me feel extremely old when Junior told me that,” James said after the game. “It’s just a unique thing that I’ve been able to withstand the test of time for as long as I’ve been playing, to be able to compete now versus father and son combinations.”

At 38, James is still playing like an all star, meaning he probably has a few years left in him and could get the change to play with his own son, Bronny James, now a senior at Sierra Canyon High.

The younger James is smaller than his dad was in high school. He’s listed as a 6-3 combo guard, who is a good passer and can score on catch-and-shoot jump shots.

He supposedly has narrowed his list of prospective colleges to Ohio State, his father’s favorite school growing up; USC and Oregon.

Many scouts feel he will need more than one year of college seasoning before he turns pro. That would mean pop James would still have to be playing three years from now if father and son will play together. 

It happened in baseball nearly 30 years ago when Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. played together in Seattle. 

If LeBron sticks around for three more years, it would be something to see. Whether he will still be in a Laker uniform remains to be seen.

Asante Samuel Jr. returns one of his three first-half interceptions for the Chargers against the Jacksonville Jaguars Jan. 14 in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs. The Chargers lost 31-30 on a last-second field goal.
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Chargers