They led by 18 points twice and by 15 as the fourth-quarter clock ticked below five minutes.
Still, the Chargers needed a pass breakup near the goal line with 1:46 remaining Sunday to avoid another startling collapse in a season already full of them.
“They should have never had a chance to get back in the game,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “It shouldn’t have been that close, for sure.”
Asked if his team’s unyielding inability to finish games convincingly has become discouraging, Allen thought for a second.
“Not discouraging,” he answered. “But definitely embarrassing.”
Starting in early October, the Chargers had a four-game stretch in which they squandered leads of at least 16 points, something that never had happened in the NFL.
They also blew an 11-point advantage against the defending Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 before losing in overtime.
After limiting the Jets to three completed passes, one third-down conversion and 82 yards in the first half, the Chargers gave up touchdowns on three consecutive New York possessions, ruining a potential rout.
“It’s the NFL,” wide receiver Mike Williams said. “It’s going to come down to those situations. But I feel like we don’t have to put ourselves in those situations all the time.”
During the Jets’ comeback, the Chargers gave up seven third-down conversions. They were called for pass interference twice and once each for illegal contact and roughing the passer.
Asked how the Chargers could have avoided all the late-afternoon angst as New York crept closer, Allen offered a straightforward answer.
“They got to get off the field,” he said of the Chargers defense. “You know, third and long, they have to get off the field. Plain and simple.”
The Chargers also gave up a game-extending fourth-and-five catch that might not have been a catch.
The Jets were down to one of their final shots when Joe Flacco threw deep down the right sideline to Denzel Mims. With Tevaughn Campbell defending, it appeared Mims failed to secure the ball as he landed out of bounds.
The officials ruled the play a catch for 25 yards to the Chargers’ 45-yard line. New York hurried downfield and snapped the ball without a replay review.
“I was curious about that,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “But [we] did not get a chance to look at it up top, and they didn’t show it in the stadium.”
SoFi Stadium has a dual-sided video board that stretches 120 yards, weighs 2.2 million pounds and is billed as the largest in sports. It has been celebrated for its tremendous clarity.
“We’ve got people looking at it upstairs,” Lynn said of any plays that could be potential reviews. “Yeah, if we get a look at it, we can challenge it. But we didn’t get a look at it.”
So instead, five plays later, the Jets scored to pull within 34-26 before they forced a three-and-out by the Chargers to get the ball back with a chance to send the game into overtime.
Campbell finally made the defensive play the Chargers needed when he was in position to break up Flacco’s fourth-down pass to Mims as the two tumbled into the end zone. The Chargers then ran out the clock and took a safety to end it.
“It could have been better,” Lynn said of his defense’s performance. “But we did what we had to do to get the damn win. That was our goal.”
The Chargers (3-7) ended a three-game losing streak and won for just the fourth time in 20one-possession decisions dating to last season. Falling to 0-10, the Jets are the NFL’s only winless team.
The victory was the second in nine starts for Herbert, who finished with a personal-best 366 passing yards. He completed 37 of 49 attempts with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Operating a tweaked up-tempo, no-huddle offense early, Herbert opened by hitting on 17 of 18 attempts. His touchdowns went to Allen, Williams and Hunter Henry.
“It’s crazy, and it’s going to get better each and every game, each and every year,” Williams said of the rookie’s latest effort. “I’m excited for it.”
Herbert has five three-touchdown games and seven in a row with at least two, both NFL rookie records.
He totaled 277 yards in the first half, the most in the NFL by a rookie in the last four decades. He also had his league-leading sixth completion of at least 50 yards when he connected with Tyron Johnson for 54 yards in the second quarter. Johnson has three of them.
Allen finished with a franchise-record 16 receptions for 145 yards and matched his career high with 19 targets.
All that, and the Chargers still had to hold on at the end.
“Even though we didn’t finish the way we wanted to, we won the game,” Lynn said. “So it’s better than the alternative.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.