February 25, 2024

Blow this up.

Blow this whole thing up.

The Chargers didn’t win a single playoff game in their first three seasons with Justin Herbert as their quarterback, and they won’t win any in their fourth, as their 24-7 defeat to the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium on Sunday virtually eliminated them from postseason contention.

Herbert has become Mike Trout with a football helmet, the transformation completed when the team’s nonexistent pass protection allowed him to take a hit from Zach Allen that broke the index finger of his throwing hand.

Regardless of whether Herbert has surgery, regardless of whether he plays again this season, the Chargers can’t go on this way.

The assumption is that Brandon Staley will be replaced as head coach at some point, whether it’s this week, at the end of the season, or when his contract expires after next year because the Spanos family doesn’t want to pay two coaches at the same time.

But what about the man who constructed the roster? Tom Telesco has been the general manager for 11 years, and the Chargers have won only two playoff games in that time.

Maybe this is the fault of Staley and Telesco, maybe it’s not, but what’s indisputable is that what the Chargers are doing isn’t working.

Change is in order. Change has to be in order.

The Chargers once looked as if they had a promising future under Staley and Telecso. They looked as if they could matter in the country’s most competitive sports and entertainment market.

They had a better quarterback than the Rams. They had better uniforms than the Rams. And they had more affordable tickets than the Rams, who crumbled after their all-in push to win a Super Bowl.

Denver Broncos defensive end Zach Allen (99) sacks Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10).

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) took a beating from the Broncos’ defense and left the game in the second quarter because of an index finger injury.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Yet, here they are at 5-8, somehow trending downward as the Rams have surprised their way back into relevance behind a rejuvenated Sean McVay. They might well change their logo from their trademark lightning bolt to a radiation warning symbol.

Staley pointed to Herbert’s departure late in the first half as a factor for the defeat to the Broncos, and the Chargers certainly became less than threatening with Easton Stick as their quarterback.

But the Chargers were bad with Herbert too. With Herbert as their quarterback for the majority of the first two quarters — Stick replaced him on the final drive of the first half, less than two minutes before halftime — they didn’t score a point. They were zero for eight on third- and fourth-down plays.

This was a must-win game for the Chargers, and this was the first half they played?

The injury to Herbert wasn’t a freak accident. Rather, it was a function of the team’s ongoing problem to protect him.

Herbert was sacked twice in the first quarter and twice more in the second. The Chargers averaged just 3.4 yards per carry in the opening half, and the absence of a ground game allowed the Broncos to target Herbert, who completed just nine of 17 passes for 96 yards.

On what would be Herbert’s final drive, the Chargers actually moved the ball, only for them to self-destruct. After Herbert completed an 11-yard pass to Donald Parham Jr. to the Broncos’ 37, the Chargers inexplicably called for a trick play in which Herbert threw a backward pass to Keenan Allen, who, in turn, threw downfield to Alex Erickson. As with Herbert for much of the day, Allen was under pressure and his throw was short.

Herbert was sacked on the next play.

Staley was optimistic entering the season. He remained hopeful when the team stumbled early. He became combative as their season started to unravel.

Sunday, in the wake of the loss to the Broncos, he sounded drained, almost defeated.

The Chargers entered the season with Super Bowl ambitions. Staley is a defensive specialist, but the defense has been terrible for most of the season. When the defense started to play better, the offense suddenly couldn’t move the ball.

Why hasn’t everything come together?

“We’ve just been a little bit off,” Staley said.

That little bit has cost them another season. That little bit has sidelined their quarterback, maybe for the rest of the season.

Sometimes drastic changes are required to make small improvements. Refuse to evolve and a handful of frustrating months can turn into a number of soul-crushing years, and suddenly, a career is over.

The Chargers still have a chance to do with Herbert what it’s too late for the Angels to do with Trout. They still can salvage his career. But they have to clean house, and they have to do it soon.

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