CARSON, Calif. — Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers finished off another impressive home victory and quickly retreated to their locker room, hoping for good news that never came.
The Oakland Raiders trudged back to their locker room and got some dismaying news of their own: coach Jack Del Rio had been fired at the close of a miserable season.
Rivers passed for 387 yards and three touchdowns, but the Chargers missed out on a playoff berth despite their 30-10 victory over the Raiders on Sunday.
Keenan Allen scored on a 27-yard fumble recovery and a brilliant 6-yard TD catch for the Chargers (9-7), who won six of their final seven games in their relocation season.
But the Bolts needed help from losses by two other AFC teams to become the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after an 0-4 start, and they were eliminated when Tennessee beat Jacksonville 15-10 moments after the final gun in Carson.
“You’re a little bit disappointed. Shoot, a lot disappointed,” Rivers said. “You kick yourself that you put yourself in this situation where you needed help, and you know you let some games get away that you never should have. ... That’s where it hurts the most, because we’re a pretty hot team that’s going home.”
Tyrell Williams caught a 56-yard TD pass and Travis Benjamin caught a 62-yard scoring pass for the Chargers, who won nine of their final 12 games. They fought fiercely to overcome that rough start, which included two losses decided by missed field goals on the final snap, but the Bolts couldn’t quite do it.
“I think this team can become a championship team,” Chargers first-year head coach Anthony Lynn said. “That’s what I believe. I don’t think that, I believe. They showed me that throughout the season. I wish it would have happened a little sooner, but I think we’re trending in the right direction. I think we’re on to something.”
Amari Cooper caught an 87-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr, but the Raiders (6-10) gave their faithful LA fans little else to cheer. Moments after the game ended, owner Mark Davis fired Del Rio, who went 25-23 in three seasons.
Davis then put Del Rio in the awkward position of announcing his own firing.
“He told me he loved me and appreciated all that I did, but felt like we weren’t going in the right direction,” Del Rio said. “He felt he needed a change, and I told him how much I appreciated the opportunity he gave me. I mean that. Very grateful. My childhood team. But it’s a results business. I understand that.”
Carr, who passed for 243 yards as the Raiders wrapped up their 14th non-winning season in the past 15 years, said he’ll miss Del Rio.
“It hurts,” Carr said. “This is a bond that you create and that’s a bond that is going to last. It hurts when something (bad) happens to someone you care about. We weren’t good enough for him.”
Rivers became the ninth quarterback in NFL history to surpass 50,000 yards passing, and he tied Fran Tarkenton for sixth place in league history with 342 touchdown passes. The 36-year-old passer left little doubt he’s still on top of his game with a series of fine long passes, shredding the Raiders’ beleaguered secondary.
After a scoreless first quarter, Allen finished a 99-yard drive for the Chargers by being in the right place when running back Melvin Gordon fumbled for the first time all season. The ball popped in the air and straight to Allen, who took it in for the sixth TD of his Pro Bowl season.
The Raiders answered with a beautiful, long strike down the middle from Carr to Cooper, who took it in untouched.
Williams scored untouched on another long strike down the middle of the Raiders’ defense later in the quarter. Allen then capped the half with an exceptional foot-drag TD grab on a pinpoint fade pass from Rivers.
Gordon rushed for 93 yards for the Chargers, who finished the scoring in the third quarter when Benjamin went in untouched on another long throw by Rivers.
The Chargers swept their season series with their fiercest rivals and earned their fifth straight win at StubHub Center despite a crowd cheering loudly for the Raiders, who played in Los Angeles County for the first time since moving back to Oakland after the 1994 season.
Those fans had little to celebrate as the Chargers beat down the Raiders, and a handful of silver-and-black fans threw bottles at the Chargers’ defense while it celebrated a fourth-quarter turnover in the end zone.
Allen finished with nine catches for 133 yards in the latest spectacular game in his Pro Bowl season. He broke LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-season Chargers record on his 101st catch of the season in the fourth quarter.
Marshawn Lynch finished strong in his first season with his hometown team, getting 101 yards rushing and earning a $600,000 bonus for surpassing 800 yards on the season. He also surpassed 10,000 yards rushing for his career with an 11-yard gain late in the fourth quarter.
Raiders safety Karl Joseph injured his hamstring in the first half. Defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter.
Del Rio ‘honors’ decision
Del Rio, who grew up in Hayward cheering for the Raiders, took over a three-win team in 2015 and immediately changed the culture and helped Oakland win seven games that season. The Raiders ended a 13-year playoff drought with a 12-win 2016 season, but it ended in disappointment when Carr’s broken leg in Week 16 cost them a chance at a division title and led to a first-round playoff loss.
“I appreciate the players and coaches and all the hard work, all the effort and energy. I do believe we have established a solid nucleus. Whoever comes in here has a chance to take that nucleus and go to special places, and I’ll be pulling for them.”
Davis said in a statement that he appreciated Del Rio’s effort in building the foundation for the future and thanked his family for contributing to the community. Davis said he will not have any other statement until after a new coach has hired, but speculation is already rampant that Jon Gruden will be back for a second stint.
“I honor the owner’s decision,” said Del Rio, who signed a four-year contract extension last February. “It was a great honor for me to lead this organization and get this opportunity, and I understand it’s a results business. We had a great first two years and this year was a big disappointment. Can’t disagree with that.”
Expectations were high coming into this season with Carr and most of the key offensive pieces back, along with the addition of Lynch and tight end Jared Cook.
But Del Rio’s decision to fire coordinator Bill Musgrave after last season despite a dynamic offense and replace him with quarterbacks coach Todd Downing backfired. The offense regressed significantly this season as Carr struggled under Downing’s tutelage and the defense showed no signs of improvement before firing coordinator Ken Norton Jr. after 10 games.
The Raiders had major drops in scoring (26 to 18.8), yards per game (373.3 to 324.1) and committed twice as many turnovers (14 to 28) this season as Carr took a major step back in his development after signing a $125 million, five-year extension in the offseason.
“We have to take our ownership as players,” Carr said. “That’s where we’re at right now. We’re kind of angry we let it get to that. We’re upset at ourselves. We understand the business part of it. As players our job is to come back better and hungry.”
The defense became the first in NFL history to fail to record on interception in the first 10 games of the season and generated only 14 takeaways all season compared to 30 in 2016.
That all led to the decision to fire Del Rio, whose 187 games as a head coach are the most for anyone without a division title in his career.
Del Rio finished his stint in Oakland with 25-23 regular-season record. The Raiders won just 13 games in the three seasons before he arrived.
“It’s tough,” cornerback Sean Smith said. “He was a coach that played the game and he was a player’s coach, you know what I mean, so you always like those kind of coaches because they relate to you easily.
“Came to work with a smile every day, and definitely enjoyed playing for him, but it just sucks because he’s the coach. As a player, we didn’t play up to our expectations, and he had to pay the price.”