Column: Consider Chargers underachievers after loss ends season before playoffs

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With a playoff berth on the line, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and his receivers made several clutch plays to force overtime Sunday night.

But in the end, getting outplayed in all three phases through three and a half quarters was too much to overcome.

The Raiders won, 35-32, and earned a playoff berth on Daniel Carlson’s 47-yard field goal as time expired in Las Vegas.

So the Chargers (9-8) fell short of the postseason for the third consecutive year.

Not making the playoffs under first-year head coach Brandon Staley qualified as underachievement for a few reasons:

The Chargers had fairly good health for most of the season including going into Sunday’s game as a three-point favorite. Also they played more home games than road games, landed six players on the Pro Bowl team and saw the NFL enlarge the playoff field this year to seven teams per conference.

“I’m disappointed because I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the NFL,” Staley said.

It seems inevitable that Herbert, a top-10 quarterback at age 23, will lead the franchise to the playoffs with some regularity as he moves through his career.

The second-year player and Pro Bowler came up with several timely throws to rally his team from a 29-14 deficit via touchdown drives of 75 and 83 yards, forcing overtime.

The first of those touchdown drives saw Herbert convert on fourth-and-6 and fourth-and-21, to receiver Mike Williams and rookie Josh Palmer, respectively, the latter for a TD.

Herbert showed rare poise to get two critical points — pulling his team to 29-22 — by finding Austin Ekeler after scanning other targets.

The QB sustained the following drive with two completions on fourth-and-10 (Williams and Keenan Allen), another on third-and-10 (Allen). Also, a fourth-and-10 pass elicited a defensive hold for a first down.

Herbert’s 12-yard laser to Williams, between two defenders as the game clock expired, went for the TD that, followed by Dustin Hopkins’ kick, created a 29-29 tie and overtime.

Getting outplayed and falling behind, 29-14, the Chargers had too many misfires.

The Raiders (10-7) turned a fumble by returner Andre Roberts into seven points and scored three points after picking off Herbert. Staley’s defense allowed the Raiders to convert on third-and-23 via a run, leading to a go-ahead TD at the end of the first half (facilitated by an awful interference call on a Bolts defensive back).

Hopkins missed a 51-yard field goal that would’ve tied the score at 17 early in the third quarter.

Poor run blocking led to three more points and much criticism of Staley’s brazen fourth-and-1 gamble from his 18 midway throught third quarter. Former Chargers lineman Darius Philon beat guard Matt Feiler and tackled Ekeler for a 2-yard loss, leading to a field goal that stretched the Raiders’ lead to 20-14.

Porous run defense by the Chargers marked the game-winning drive. Josh Jacobs (26 rushes 132 yards) broke two tackles on a 28-yard run. On third-and-4 at LA’s 39, the running back ran for seven yards one play after Staley had called timeout to stop the clock at 38 seconds.

A tie would’ve advanced both teams to the playoffs, raising the question of the Raiders’ willingness to try more daring plays in the final minute. Jacobs made it a moot point, defeated a run defense that entered the game 27th in yards per game.

Staley’s team amassed 10 penalties for 108 yards — 70 yards more than whistled on the Raiders, who improved to 7-5 under interim coach Rich Bisaccia.

49ers win a big one

“I’m totally exhausted right now,” Jimmy Garoppolo said.

The 49ers quarterback had just completed perhaps the best high-stakes performance of his career (before informing Fox Sports of his fatigue).

Needing a victory to reach the playoffs, the Niners trailed the Rams in Inglewood by seven points. They had to go 88 yards with no timeouts and 87 seconds on the clock.

Garoppolo drove them for a tying touchdown via accurate passes. He attacked the middle of a defense that had lost its signal-caller, safety Jordan Fuller, early in the fourth quarter.

On the first drive of overtime, Jimmy G led the Niners to a short field goal that stood as the winner when rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas picked off Matthew Stafford’s underthrown deep pass.

Stafford had played a good game, and gave the Rams (12-5) a fine season that has led to the NFC’s No. 4 seed and a home playoff game against Arizona.

Up front, the 49ers outplayed LA — both on offense and defense.

AFC’s extreme parity

A victory as a 14-point favorite at Jacksonville would’ve returned the Colts to the playoffs.

Not happening.

Rookie Trevor Lawrence outplayed Carson Wentz in the quarterback duel, the defense stuffed key run plays and the Jags (3-14) rolled to a 26-11 victory that kept the Colts winless in Jacksonville since 2015.

At Houston, the Titans survived as a double-digit favorite to win 28-25, giving coach Mike Vrabel’s injury-ravaged team the top seed and lone bye.