Jeff Miller is the Chargers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times. He previously spent 20 years as a sports columnist for the Orange County Register and, before that, the Miami Herald. He also served as the Angels beat writer for The Times and the Register. His other stops include the Palm Beach Post and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — For all the things that went wrong Sunday, the Chargers still had a chance in the game’s final seconds — a chance that slipped through the hands of rookie wide receiver Quentin Johnston.
“I should have caught it,” Johnston said. “I feel like the outcome of the game would have been different if I had caught it. There ain’t really no excuse for it. I should have caught the ball.”
Facing third and six at his 30-yard line, quarterback Justin Herbert fired a ball down the left sideline toward Johnston, who had beaten Green Bay cornerback Carrington Valentine.
The pass hit Johnston’s hands, but he was unable to secure it with 23 seconds left.
The Chargers were trailing 23-20, and the telecast showed Johnston’s feet — at the moment he dropped the ball — straddling the Packers’ 36-yard line, the exact spot where Fox had inserted the imaginary line to show the limit of kicker Cameron Dicker’s range.
Coach Brandon Staley got heated and steamed when his defense was questioned again in a devastating 23-20 road loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The moment was bitter and fitting for what has been an underwhelming season for the player the Chargers picked No. 21 overall.
Johnston had his first career touchdown catch against Detroit in Week 10 but entered Sunday with only 18 receptions for 162 yards. He had two catches against the Packers for 21 yards.
His production has gone up slightly — not significantly — since the Chargers have been without injured wide receivers Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer.
After the game, Johnston assured that his confidence remains sound. He said he talked to Herbert following the play.
“I just apologized to him,” Johnston said. “It’s not like I can rewind and re-catch the ball. I just told him I’ll be there for the next one.”
More offensive woes
Johnston wasn’t the only Charger with a drop. Tight end Donald Parham Jr. failed to secure a first-quarter catch that would have converted a third down. Keenan Allen dropped what might have been a touchdown in the third quarter.
After falling behind 23-20 in the final three minutes, the Chargers had two possessions to try to tie the score or take the lead, but neither possession amounted to anything.
The first was a three-and-out that lost 10 yards as Herbert was under heavy pressure.
The second — which included the Johnston drop — netted 15 yards, nine of which came on two Green Bay penalties.
Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 23-20 road loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday — scoring and statistics.
Herbert finished 21-of-36 passing for 260 yards and two touchdowns. One of those scores was the first career touchdown for reserve tight end Stone Smartt.
Allen finished with 10 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown, his seventh of the season, one short of tying his single-season career high.
Allen also went over 1,000 yards for the season for the sixth time in his career, pushing his total to 1,011.
After the game, safety Derwin James Jr. sat inside Herbert’s locker as the two quietly spoke and teammates hunched nearby with towels draped over their heads.
“That was captain on captain, bro,” James explained later. “We’re the two leaders of the team. … Just captains talking. Nothing crazy.”
The mood has been noticeably heavy after each of the Chargers’ six losses, a team expected to play better repeatedly losing tight games.
James, and others, insisted the Chargers will not fracture.
“We believe in each other,” he said. “We ain’t fading on each other. It’s tough. It’s the NFL. We know what we’ve got in the locker room. … There’s more work to be done.”
Red-faced in the red zone
The Chargers entered Week 11 as the NFL’s second-best offense inside the opposition’s 20-yard line, scoring touchdowns on 72% of their trips.
They converted only one of four against Green Bay, twice settling for field goals and losing the ball on an Austin Ekeler fumble early in the fourth quarter.
The play with Ekeler went bad when he slipped immediately after taking the handoff. Ekeler regained his feet but then lost the ball, with the Packers recovering at the six-yard line.
Trailing at the time 16-13, the Chargers had first and goal at the two before the turnover.
The lost fumble was Ekeler’s second of the season.
“We know we’ve got a good squad,” Ekeler said. “We know that we can play better than we showed today, but we didn’t.”
The Chargers’ problems stopping third-and-long situations also continued against the Packers, who finished seven of 14 overall on third down.
Green Bay’s conversions included third and eight, third and 10 and third and 12, to go along with the third and 20 the Packers picked up on Asante Samuel Jr.’s pass interference late in the game.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks said the defense’s shortcomings aren’t from a lack of general cohesion.
“Guys are connected,” he said. “We hang out off the field. We hang out in the locker room. We enjoy each other’s company. We work hard together.
“That’s what’s the most frustrating about it because we all want to see each other succeed and we all want to collectively win. But these fourth quarters, when it comes down to the wire, we’re not getting it done.”
In his own words
“I’m confident in it when everyone’s tied in. Ya’ll have seen it before. Last year, around this time, you saw it. When everyone’s clicking, they know their assignment, playing fast, it works well.” — safety Alohi Gilman on his belief in the Chargers’ defense