The Chargers will play the franchise’s biggest game in four years without wide receiver Mike Williams.
The team’s top deep threat was ruled out Friday because of a fracture in his back that the Chargers claim did not show up in tests until Friday morning.
Williams remained home while the team traveled to Jacksonville, where the Chargers will play the Jaguars in an AFC wild-card matchup Saturday at 5: 15 p.m.
Williams was injured Sunday in the regular-season finale in Denver. He was hurt on a hit after making a six-yard reception in the final three minutes of the first half.
The Chargers said that initial tests — X-rays on Sunday and an MRI on Monday — were negative. When Williams’ back didn’t progress, the Chargers say subsequent tests were run.
Coach Brandon Staley has faced repeated questions this week about the way the Chargers handled playing time against the Broncos. Though the game had no impact on playoff seeding, most of the Chargers’ starters played at least through the end of the third quarter.
On Thursday, he was asked again about the decision and said, “I stand behind what we did in that football game.”
Williams had to be helped to the sideline after being hurt and then was carted to the locker room at halftime. The Chargers had announced he was questionable to return.
Following the game, Williams was seen needing assistance walking to the team bus for the trip home.
In his postgame news conference, Staley was asked whether — since Williams was never ruled out by the team — he could have returned to the game. His answer: “Possibly.”
Later, multiple reports citing an unnamed source downplayed the severity of Williams’ injury and suggested he’d be available to play against Jacksonville.
Staley said Monday that Williams would practice at “some point” in the lead-up to Saturday.
But that never happened, Staley explaining after the team’s final practice that the decision was made to instead have Williams focus on treatment and recovery.
In light of how the week unfolded, Staley was asked Thursday to clarify his postgame “possibly” remark.
“The nature of it was I didn’t know how serious it was,” he said. “I wasn’t given the indication that anything was significantly wrong with him. That’s what was told to me. What I was intimating is 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.”
Without Williams, the Chargers’ offense will be missing a key piece to its passing game. He led the team with 895 yards receiving and an average of 14.2 yards per catch during the regular season.
The Chargers will be making their first appearance in the playoffs since January 2019.
Now, instead of focusing on the details of the game, much of the attention will be on how the Chargers handled their regular-season finale and what it could mean to the futures of Staley and general manager Tom Telesco.