The Chargers had already clinched a playoff spot -- and, specifically, the AFC's No. 5 seed -- before taking the field in Week 18. But that didn't stop coach Brandon Staley from playing regular starters against the Broncos in Sunday's 31-28 loss. And it didn't stop a couple of big names from getting hurt, either. In between a hard hit on Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert, who stayed under center into the fourth quarter, star wide receiver Mike Williams and pass rusher Joey Bosa both left the game with separate ailments.
Williams' departure was particularly notable, as the team's top vertical threat was carted to the locker room and ruled questionable to return with a back injury. The receiver made four catches before limping off, then receiving attention in the team's sideline medical tent. Williams, who battled a lingering ankle issue earlier this season, initially walked off the field under his own power but appeared much less mobile leaving the cart to actually enter the locker room.
The receiver was later seen struggling to walk from the locker room to the team bus after the game, per The Athletic, requiring assistance to move. The Chargers, however, appeared to have dodged a huge loss as Williams appeared to have suffered back spasms, according to ESPN, and X-rays came back negative. He will undergo further testing on Monday in preparation for next weekend's wild card game against the Jaguars.
Staley explained his decision to go with starters after the game.
"There's only 48 guys that you can choose from and these aren't easy decisions," Staley said, via Sports Illustrated. "Hindsight is perfect for everybody on the outside, but these games are not easy to manage. They're not, because you don't have that many players. We did it to the best of our ability."
Bosa was just activated off injured reserve ahead of Week 17 and may have aggravated his groin, which required surgery and kept him sidelined for much of the 2022 season. The Pro Bowler was also battling an illness ahead of game day.
Herbert did not officially sustain an injury in the contest but took a hard shot to the midsection during the first half, when the Chargers and Broncos played to a 17-17 stalemate. Linebacker Kenneth Murray also appeared to briefly suffer an injury, per ProFootballTalk, but did not leave the game or receive an official designation from the team.
Despite the injuries, the Chargers kept their starters on the field to start the second half, later falling behind the Broncos, who have long been eliminated from playoff contention.