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Keenan Allen Is Squandered

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 26: Keenan Allen #13 of the Los Angeles Chargers takes the field prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at SoFi Stadium on November 26, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

When Keenan Allen's name comes before the Pro Football Hall of Fame's selection committee five years after his retirement, at least one person should have the decency to suggest that he should have been inducted years earlier—indeed, while he was still an active player. It would violate the rules of the Hall, but as much as anyone, Allen should get whatever serves as time off for good behavior just for enduring a decade of being the most important figure on the least important team.

Allen has been the central figure of the Chargers, in San Diego and now in Los Angeles, since 2013. He is the player most expected to fight the tidal forces that grip the Chargers through their weekly stages of denial, and the person most accustomed to the walk of shame that ends a typical Charger week. He is targeted more often per game than all but three wide receivers in the history of the sport, and in his 137 career games, the Chargers are 68-69, including Sunday night's perfectly Chargery 20-10 loss to Baltimore.

Well, not "perfectly." A perfect Charger result would not have included Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers waltzing through the parade of dispirited traffic cones in lightning-bolt helmets for an utterly unnecessary late touchdown that robbed us of the game's most often-cited cliché: the Chargers losing by three.

There are players who have been targeted more often, and players who have lost more often, but none have known the futility of existence quite like Allen. Of his 69 career games in losing efforts, his team has lost by a touchdown or less 44 times, typically when the Chargers were trying to get him to win the game for them when they couldn't do it without him. Sunday night he was targeted 16 times, he caught 14 of them, and none resulted in points—his career in a nutshell. Earlier in the season he was targeted 20 times against Minnesota, caught 18 passes for 215 yards, and the Chargers barely won on a late pass to—you guessed it, Joshua Palmer. He has been targeted 85 times over the last seven games, an average of 12 per game, and the Chargers have lost five of those. Never has a player given more to less.

This season’s Charger team is typical in its fierce devotion to the mean, and year after year it seeks out Allen to save it from its seemingly preordained fate right up until the moment when it matters most. Sunday was unusual in that the Chargers held an excellent Baltimore team to one touchdown for the bulk of the evening, and they even enjoyed a late missed field goal from the historically automatic Justin Tucker. But the Chargers failed on their final meaningful possession as is their wont (Allen didn't get targeted, which is also something the Chargers do in important moments) and the only real disappointment was that Mike Tirico and the empty storefront that is Jason Garrett couldn't haul out the cherished "The Chargers have lost their last seven games decided by a field goal or less" stat. That they lost—well, that was a given. And that Keenan Allen was employed heavily right up until the point when the game could be stolen away—that was a given too.

This might change this coming week, in what may well be the most forlorn matchup of the season. The Chargers travel to New England in a game between the pitiable and the detestable, as opposed to Sunday's Giants-Patriots game, which was just two bags of coleslaw tossed in a dryer. Keenan Allen will be sensational in a 10-9 loss because that's how his career has gone, and because that's his ticket to the Hall of Fame, as the era's best player to give his career to people who had no idea what to do with it.

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