Chargers didn’t play it safe against Broncos ahead of playoff trip


DENVER — If the NFL insists on calling the first round of the playoffs next week “Super Wild Card Weekend,” then Week 18 was the “Fantastic Frenzied Forerunner” or the “Harrowing Harbinger.”

Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley elected to play most of his starters for most of the game at Denver even though their playoff position (fifth seed) and first-round destination (Jacksonville) were locked in before kickoff.

It sure looked like a losing bet when wide receiver Mike Williams was carted off the field, linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. left with a stinger and star linebacker Joey Bosa, who just returned from a serous groin injury, limped around following a cameo appearance that featured a sack and maybe a tweak.

Backups were in by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, although receiver Keenan Allen, who missed most of the season with a bad hamstring, returned and caught a touchdown pass with 6 minutes left.

“We signed up for 17 games,” Allen said. “And I only played, what? Six or seven games this whole year. So, it feels good for me to keep playing, play in this altitude, get some more wind. And I’m tired right now. I can barely breathe now. Good to get out there and play with the guys some more.”

Allen said neither the game plan nor the mindset was affected by learning before kickoff that the Chargers didn’t need to beat Denver on Sunday to avoid a first-round game at Cincinnati.

“No, not at all,” Allen said. “We practiced all week. We prepared to come and fight, to come to play today, and that’s what we did.”

Even if they left Denver a little more banged up after their 31-28 loss to the Broncos that snapped their four-game winning streak.

If the Chargers go on a run in the playoffs behind third-year pro Justin Herbert, Staley will be hailed for keeping his players sharp.

If not, he’ll face ridicule for risking so much in a meaningless matchup.

“We wanted to go and compete,” Herbert said. “We wanted to be out there. I think whatever Coach Staley and the front office, whatever they decided for us to go out there, we were going to be on board with it 100%.


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