DENVER — Chargers coach Brandon Staley offered no apology Sunday after playing starters throughout most of a 31-28 loss to the Denver Broncos in the regular-season finale, despite Los Angeles clinching the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs moments before kickoff.
“These aren’t easy decisions,” Staley said after the game. “They’re not easy decisions and hindsight is perfect for everybody on the outside, but these games are not easy to manage. They’re not, because you don’t have that many players and we did it to the best of our ability.”
Wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a back injury in the second quarter, was assisted off the field by the training staff and taken into the locker room on a cart, a situation that tight end Gerald Everett described after the game as “demoralizing.”
A source told ESPN that Williams’ X-rays were negative and it’s anticipated that he will be available to play in next week’s wild-card game against the No. 4 seed Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bosa was removed from the game in keeping with a plan to phase players out, and Murray suffered a stinger, Staley said.
The Bolts entered Sunday on a four-game win streak and appearing to peak at the perfect time after securing in Week 16 their first playoff berth since 2018. They finish the regular season 10-7, achieving double-digit wins for only the second time in 13 seasons.
“We were trying to compete in the game and we only have 48 guys on the team that are active for the game,” Staley said. “So we wanted to make sure that they went a good ways in this football game and competed at a high level and then when we felt like it was right for them to get out of the game, then that’s what we were going to do, slowly phase them out so that we could get ready for next week.”
Several players said they agreed with Staley’s decision to play starters despite having their postseason path already determined.
“Yes. Why not?” defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said emphatically when asked if he agreed with Staley’s decision to play starters. “It’s all about momentum. At least in my previous employment, we used this bottom half to win out and propel us.”
Joseph-Day won an NFC championship and made two Super Bowl appearances with the Los Angeles Rams, winning a title last season.
“We signed up for 17 games,” said wide receiver Keenan Allen, who caught eight passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns as he played into the fourth quarter. “This is definitely — I mean I only played what, six or seven games this whole year? So it was good for me to keep playing.”
“I think everyone on this team wanted to go out and compete today, wanted to battle,” Herbert said. “We believe in the front office, the coaching staff, and whatever they decided, we’re behind them 100%.”
Herbert has 14,091 career passing yards, an NFL record for a player through his first three seasons, and his 94 career passing touchdowns are the second most in a player’s first three seasons. Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino had 98.
The Chargers finish the regular season with just 260 plays (23%) where Herbert, Allen and Williams were on the field together, with Allen and Williams playing only four games (Weeks 14-17) together start-to-finish. Allen missed significant time because of a hamstring strain and Williams due to a high ankle sprain.
The Bolts allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to complete 13 of 24 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception, as the Broncos closed out a 5-12 season.
“As a competitor you want to be out there, you want to find rhythm in your game and certainly not playing for a week and begin two weeks — can take away from your rhythm,” Tranquill said. “Our strategy coming was we were playing to win, be on a five-game win streak and be one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs.”