Do-or-die Brandon Staley gamble pays off for Chargers on game-winning 2-point conversion

The Los Angeles Chargers faced a choice late in Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Kick an extra point and play for overtime. Or roll the dice with a chance to win.

Brandon Staley is the Chargers head coach. So they rolled the dice. And they won.

After Austin Ekeler scored a 1-yard touchdown on first-and-goal, the Chargers trailed the Cardinals, 24-23 with 15 seconds remaining in regulation. Staley didn't send out the kicking unit. He kept his offense on the field. Quarterback Justin Herbert took a shotgun snap, then found Gerald Everett uncovered at the goal line for the go-ahead two-point conversion.

The two-point conversion capped a successful Chargers comeback after they trailed 10-0 early and 24-17 in the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals failed to convert on a desperation possession with 15 seconds remaining, and the Chargers held on for a 25-24 win thanks to Staley's gamble paying off.

Was Staley's decision analytically sound?

Since Staley took over the Chargers last season, analytics-based gambles have become his trademark, much to the chagrin of Chargers fans when they don't work out. But on Sunday, the strategy secured a critical win as Los Angeles improved to 6-5 to keep pace in a competitive AFC playoff race.

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley converted arguably his highest-profile gamble in his tenure in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley converted arguably his highest-profile gamble in his tenure in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The win doesn't put the Chargers on the right side of the playoff picture, where a 7-4 record was required on Sunday to make the cut. But it keeps them a game back of the field and provided a significant boost to their playoff hopes.

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Playing the results is a fallacy when it comes to analyzing calculated risks in football or elsewhere. But nothing matters more than winning in the NFL, and the Chargers needed a win on Sunday. Per ESPN's Seth Walder, Staley's decision amounted to a true coin flip in terms of win probability. Staley really felt like gambling with a chance to win on the road.

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Los Angeles entered 2022 as a preseason playoff favorite for the second time in Staley's two-season tenure. After missing the playoffs last season, the Chargers were looking at an uphill battle in 2022 after a two-game losing streak dropped them to 5-5. If the Chargers miss the postseason again, the process of Staley's calculated risks won't matter much in the face of the results of two disappointing seasons.