JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Mike Williams’ absence from the Chargers’ AFC wild-card game Saturday against the Jacksonville Jaguars was noteworthy for several reasons, not least of which was that it deprived quarterback Justin Herbert of his top playmaker, a wide receiver capable of making remarkable catches.
Joshua Palmer shifted into Williams’ spot and DeAndre moved into Palmer’s slot.
Williams’ leaping, one-handed catch along the sideline during the Chargers’ victory over the Rams in Week 17 stands out as one of the more amazing receptions of the season. It didn’t produce a touchdown, but it was a jaw-dropping catch that underscored his value to the Chargers.
One week later, Williams looked human again.
Williams suffered what proved to be a small fracture in his back after he was tackled following a catch and run during the Chargers’ loss in Week 18 to the Denver Broncos, a meaningless game after they had already clinched the fifth-seeded position a few minutes before the kickoff.
So began a week-long saga.
Coach Brandon Staley initially said Williams could have “possibly” returned to the game against the Broncos, defending his decision to play his starters well into a game the Chargers did not need to win. Williams needed assistance from a staff member just walking to the team bus after the game, however.
Scans taken on Sunday in Denver and Monday in Southern California revealed no structural damage, but when Williams was re-tested Friday, a small fracture was detected and he was ruled out of Saturday’s playoff game. He had been listed as questionable to play during the week.
“I didn’t know how serious it was,” Staley said Thursday of his first comments last Sunday concerning Williams’ injury. “I wasn’t given the indication that anything was significantly wrong with him, so that was what was told to me. What I was intimating was that there wasn’t anything serious, in terms of a fracture or some type of X-ray that was positive. That’s all I was inferring at that moment in the post-game (news conference).”
Of equal or greater concern was Staley’s decision to play Williams at all.
“I stand behind what we did in that football game,” Staley said. “All of my players are really important to me. There were a lot of players that were playing in that game that were in harm’s way. That is just the nature of football. It’s very difficult to decide who plays and who doesn’t, and who is more valuable than the rest.
“What you are trying to do is set a standard for your program about how you do things. That is what I believe in. I didn’t want anybody to get hurt in that game, regardless of their status, because everybody is important.”
Staley’s decision-making also was questioned when he left Herbert in the Chargers’ Week 3 loss to the Jaguars at SoFi Stadium, with the game firmly in Jacksonville’s grasp in the fourth quarter and Herbert hurting after suffering fractured rib cartilage one week earlier against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Herbert looked stiff and uncomfortable from start to finish in that game, but he regained his mobility and accuracy in the weeks that followed. He benefited from Williams (ankle) and Keenan Allen (hamstring) recovering from nagging early-season injuries. He only had one of the two available Saturday, though.
Cameron Dicker, the Chargers’ third kicker this season, was honored as the AFC’s special teams player of the month for December and January. Dicker, a rookie, made all 14 of his extra points in the season’s final six weeks and hit 11 of 12 field goals, including a game-winning 43-yarder in Week 15.