The Los Angeles Chargers were defeated in truly heartbreaking fashion on Thursday night. An inner-divisional showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs ended in a thrilling 34-28 overtime victory for the Chiefs, who moved to 10-4 while continuing to embark on a red-hot and active seven-game win streak. The Chargers meanwhile floundered an opportunity to move into first place in the AFC West, and currently find themselves in the fifth playoff seed in the conference.
Much of the chatter surrounding the outcome of the heated contest centered around Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and his controversial fourth-down decisions. Staley coached Thursday night's game in a shockingly aggressive manner. The Chargers attempted a season-high five fourth downs but converted just two of them. Staley passed on three field goal attempts deep in Kansas City territory in hopes of turning three points into seven. The Chargers left a potential nine points on the board in a one-score game that was ultimately lost in overtime. Staley's calls led to a healthy amount of debate via social media, with some siding with Staley's approach and others accusing him of living in a simulation.
Had Staley kicked just one of those field goals, his Chargers would have reigned victorious, completed the season-sweep over Kansas City, and celebrated moving into first place in a shockingly competitive division. Process matters, however, and we're unwilling to scrutinize Staley for his forward-thinking approach.
You typically don't beat Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes by settling for three points deep in their territory. As we witnessed both late in the fourth quarter and in overtime, the Chiefs are capable of putting together a surgical scoring drive when necessary. Chargers fans should ask more questions about their ability to convert their third and fourth-down attempts, and skeptical play-calling by offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and less about Staley’s overall decision-making process. Bad execution leads to the divisiveness we are witnessing.
The Chargers had good opportunities to convert their fourth-down attempts but ultimately didn't due to a mixture of poor execution, questionable play-calling, and good defensive play by the Chiefs. A tip of the cap is also undeniably due to Kansas City's defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who has led a shockingly unexpected defensive renaissance over the last few weeks.
Staley is ultimately a young, aggressive, forward-thinking coach. It's a big reason why the 39-year-old defensive genius has experienced a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks. Staley secured his first NFL job in 2017 as an outside linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears before quickly becoming the league's most interesting defensive coordinator in 2020. His unwavering amount of success as the Los Angeles Rams' defensive play-caller was quickly parlayed into the head coaching job he now holds with the Chargers. The future is incredibly bright for a Chargers squad that has already surpassed last year's win total and is on pace to qualify for the postseason. Staley's leadership paired with his overall approach is a large reason why.