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You take the Chargers out of San Diego, but you can’t take the blown leads and unforgettable heartbreaks out of the Chargers.
If you’re a Chargers fan, you know this side of the franchise all too well. You know, the side you saw this past weekend, the one where the Chargers blew a 27-point first-half lead and squandered a 10-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. This is different from the other side, which is the side where the team piles up wins in the regular season, then quickly throws it all away in the postseason.
I’m sorry that this keeps happening to you.
The Chargers have treated their fans to a feast of follies when it matters most, especially in the last 20 years. Let’s recount them.
Chargers Collapses: Two Sides of the Same Coin
I’ve divided these painful playoff moments into two camps: choke jobs and letdowns. Choke jobs are like losing a game that you once led, 27-0. Letdowns are like being the No. 1 seed and losing immediately.
There isn’t a perfect split between the two flavors. The Chargers have occasionally provided both. But I’ve done my best to do each failure justice.
2022 AFC Wild Card Round: Jaguars 31, Chargers 30
Heartbreak hurts the worst when it’s new, so let’s dive into a wound so fresh, the bleeding is yet to stop.
Back in the playoffs for the first time in four years, the Chargers traveled to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars. More than halfway through the second quarter, the visitors had already run out to a 27-0 lead. The Chargers proceeded to be outdone, 31-3, in the remainder of the game, actively pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. LA gave up a touchdown, a two-point conversation, and a walk-off field goal in the fourth quarter to seal its fate and finalize the third-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history, which also makes it the third-biggest collapse in NFL playoff history if you’re a glass-half-empty kind of guy.
2004 AFC Wild Card Round: Jets 20, Chargers 17 (OT)
The Chargers found themselves down by 10 at the end of the third quarter but mounted their comeback in the final 15 minutes of regulation. In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, a roughing-the-passer call gave San Diego new life near the goal line. Drew Brees connected with Antonio Gates on a one-yard touchdown pass with 11 ticks to go to help tie the game at 17.
In overtime, the Chargers used their second possession to march down the field and set up Nate Kaeding for a 40-yard field goal to win. But he pushed it right, the Jets connected on their field-goal attempt on the ensuing possession, and the 12-4 Chargers were back to the drawing board.
2006 AFC Divisional Round: Patriots 24, Chargers 21
This could easily be a letdown, but I’m leaning choke job because of how it happened.
The Chargers went 14-2 in the regular season, the best record in the NFL. By the time New England came to San Diego for the AFC Divisional Round contest on Jan. 14, 2007, the Chargers hadn’t lost a game in 12 weeks. San Diego also boasted the NFL MVP, LaDainian Tomlinson, who put up 2,323 total yards from scrimmage and 31 total touchdowns for the season.
With fewer than seven minutes to play, the Chargers led, 21-13. On fourth-and-5, San Diego’s Marlon McCree intercepted Tom Brady. But Patriots receiver Troy Brown stripped him of the ball moments later, and New England recovered. Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer unsuccessfully challenged the play, his team lost a timeout that would have been helpful later, and the Patriots scored on the possession and added the two-point conversion to tie the game at 21.
That was one of a medley of errors from the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the game. Stephen Gostkowski kicked what became the game-winning field goal with 70 seconds remaining, and New England advanced, 24-21. The defeat spelled Schottenheimer’s end in San Diego.
1980 AFC Divisional Round: Oilers 17, Chargers 14
San Diego went 12-4 and had the No. 1 seed in the 1979 NFL Playoffs. It faced a Houston Oilers team in the AFC Divisional Round that was without its regular starting quarterback, running back, or wide receiver. The Chargers had Dan Fouts, who set the single-season passing record that year.
The Oilers relied on their defense to make it through, specifically via their defensive coordinator Eddie Biles, who figured out the code the Chargers used to relay play calls to Fouts and made his defensive decisions accordingly. Houston held San Diego to its second-lowest point total of the season and won the game, 17-14. This was the original Chargering.
2009 Divisional Round: Jets 17, Chargers 14
After a 13-3 regular season, the Chargers were the No. 2 seed in the AFC and led by Philip Rivers, who passed for more than 4,200 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2009. In their first game of the playoffs, they faced a Jets team quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez … and lost.
Rivers threw two second-half interceptions and the Jets scored 14-straight points in the fourth quarter to give New York the eventual win, 17-14. This was despite only 100-yard passing and an interception from Sanchez and the Chargers out-gaining the Jets, 344-262.
2018 AFC Division Round: Patriots 41, Chargers 28
The Chargers went 12-4 in 2018 but a tiebreaker cost them the AFC West title. They had to first travel to Baltimore to open the playoffs and found success on the East Coast, evading the Ravens, 23-17. That set a date with the Patriots in Foxboro in the AFC Divisional Round.
Before kickoff, New England was favored slightly, just by 3.5 points. The Chargers weren’t necessarily expected to win, but they weren’t expected to get blown out of the water, either.
But they did. By halftime, the Pats were cruising, 38-7. New England held LA to 19 total yards on the ground, a far cry from its average of 117 from the regular season, while Brady and his offense gashed the Chargers for almost 500 total yards from scrimmage. It was a thorough demolition. This whimper was the franchise’s last playoff appearance before 2022.
The Chargers are one of the least-successful franchises in NFL history. Zero Super Bowl wins with only one appearance, an 11-15 playoff record since joining the NFL in 1970, and 38 postseason-less seasons in the same time frame are a recipe for recoiling.
But it has to end eventually, right? The Cubs won the World Series, the Blues won the Stanley Cup, and the Cavaliers won the NBA Finals. It has to change for the Chargers at some point, right? They at least don’t have to always close on choke jobs and letdowns, right? Right?!