GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers beat the Chargers 23-20 thanks to the clutch performance of Green Bay’s young receivers and the unclutch performance of Los Angeles’ best and youngest receivers.
While rookies contributed 213 of Jordan Love’s career-high 322 passing yards and two of the team’s three touchdowns, the Chargers’ hopes were undone by two red-zone drops by star receiver Keenan Allen and a game-changing drop by rookie Quentin Johnston.
With 30 seconds remaining, the Chargers faced a third-and-6 from their 30. Quarterback Justin Herbert uncorked a deep ball to Johnston, the team’s first-round pick. Johnson did everything right. It appeared he slowed down, which caused Packers rookie cornerback Carrington Valentine to also slow down. Johnston then stepped on the gas and was a couple years clear of Valentine when the ball arrived.
Rather than a 70-yard, game-winning touchdown, the ball went through Johnston’s hands.
“Man, I’m not even going to talk about that right now,” Valentine said. “I’m going to leave it at that. I’m not even going to talk about it.”
Quentin Johnston with one of the worst drops with the game on the line pic.twitter.com/xO752WkSQa— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) November 19, 2023
Instead, Chargers coach Brandon Staley had to talk about another game that slipped through his team’s fingers.
“He had a tough down there,” Staley said of Johnston’s drop. “We’re going to keep going back to him. He’s going to be an outstanding player. We love coaching him. Justin’s going to continue going to him. The more he plays, the more he’s going to be able to knock down opportunities like that.”
Johnston, whose drops were a big part of his predraft scouting report, made the pivotal mistake that allowed the Packers to escape with a victory. However, the five-time Pro Bowler Allen also had a forgettable day.
The NFL’s leading receiver with 73 catches entering the game, Allen was open for most of the day against Green Bay’s beat-up secondary and piled up 10 catches for 116 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.
However, on third-and-5 from the 7 late in the first quarter, he was open at the 2 but dropped the ball against Valentine. Had he caught the ball, he might have scored; at least it would have been first-and-goal.
Later, on third-and-goal from the 7 early in the third quarter, Allen was wide open for a catch he’d typically make in his sleep. But, perhaps because he was starting straight into the sun that was streaming over the south end zone seats, he dropped the ball at the goal line.
On the first of Allen’s drops, the Chargers settled for a field goal. On the second of Allen’s drops, the Chargers also settled for a field goal. On the play after Johnston’s drop, Kenny Clark deflected Herbert’s pass to preserve the win.
“I think we have to be able to complete some balls. I have to be able to complete some footballs there at the end and make the drives keep going,” Herbert said.
“It’s not a lack of effort. These guys are giving their all,” Herbert added. “I feel for these guys and it’s unfortunate that we’re in this situation, but all we can do now is answer in how we can deal with this and keep moving forward. I know that these guys are going to continue to show up and give their best effort. We’re awfully close. We just have to keep pushing, keep executing and doing everything we can to learn from these mistakes and keep getting better.”
Between the three drops and the killer fumble by star running back Austin Ekeler on second-and-goal at the 2 early in the fourth quarter, the Chargers did as much to lose the game as the Packers did to win it.
Not that the Packers care.
“It’s huge for our confidence. It’s huge for everything, really,” Clark said. “That was a really good football team. They’ve got a lot of playmakers. For us to have the injuries that we got and for us to come out and get that win the way we did – the offense and defense playing off each other, turnovers, offense was balling – it was a huge, especially for the younger guys.
“That game could’ve went either way, like it’s been going all year. For us to come out on the other side of it, it’s huge for our team and huge for our confidence.”
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The Green Bay #Packers’ signature victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, 23-20 on Sunday at Lambeau Field, came with one big asterisk.— Bill Huber (@BillHuberNFL) November 19, 2023
And then one even bigger sigh of relief. ⬇️https://t.co/aHBv2Vauj9