Justin Herbert won the Campbell Trophy, which is nicknamed the Academic Heisman, at the University of Oregon last year for his smarts on and off the field. The quarterback is getting a crash course in close losses as a rookie in the National Football League.
Herbert became the first rookie to throw for four touchdowns in a Monday Night game, but the Los Angeles Chargers squandered another 17-point, second-quarter lead in a 30-27 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints. The Chargers - who became the first team since the 2003 Atlanta Falcons to squander leads of 17-points or more two straight weeks - have lost four straight by a combined margin of 18 points.
“To be so close in these past four games it hurts a lot,” said Herbert who completed 20 of 34 passes for 264 yards. “I’ve been told that games come down to a possession or less and I have found that out very quickly. We have to learn to finish these games.”
Statistically, Herbert - who was the sixth overall pick in April’s draft - has held his own with three former league MVPs in Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and New Orleans’ Drew Brees. But he has also had to watch from the sideline as all three rallied their teams from double-digit deficits.
The loss to New Orleans was similar to the Chargers 38-31 defeat at Tampa Bay on Oct. 4. In both cases, the Saints and Bucs were able to score just before halftime while the Chargers were unable to muster much in the third quarter.
Even though the defense has been unable to make double-digit leads stand three of the past four weeks, coach Anthony Lynn expressed confidence in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Lynn has shown he is not averse to making changes. He fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt at midseason last year.
“You’ve done it before (getting it back on track) and I’m confident he can do it again,” said Lynn, who is off to his second 1-4 start in four years as Chargers’ coach.
Herbert has continued to amaze coaches and commentators with his ability to complete passes under pressure and in tight windows. His first touchdown of the night, a 17-yard strike to Keenan Allen, had a completion probability of 27.7% according to the league’s Next Gen Stats. The most improbable completion of his career happened late in the fourth quarter with a 29-yard throw to Mike Williams down the left sideline with two defenders within a yard (21.6%).
“Our front seven got after him pretty well. He made a lot of great plays down the stretch. … He may be a force to be reckoned with for years to come,” Saints defensive tackle Cameron Jordan said.
Herbert joins Daniel Jones, Baker Mayfield, Deshaun Watson and Marcus Mariota as quarterbacks since the merger to throw for 250-plus yards, four or more touchdowns and no interceptions in a game. Jones did it three times last season with the New York Giants.
Herbert also continues to put up great numbers despite not having four offensive starters. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga and right guard Trai Turner were inactive due to injuries, running back Austin Ekeler is on injured reserve and Allen suffered a back injury during the second quarter and did not return. The upcoming bye week, rescheduled to this week because of a myriad of changes to the NFL schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic, couldn’t come at a better time.
Los Angeles didn’t commit a turnover for the first time since its Week 1 win at Cincinnati, but was unable to be consistent on offense. Of its 350 yards, more than half came on four plays (179). Th Chargers averaged 2.6 yards on their other 65 plays and often were behind the chains as they struggled to get big plays on first down.
“I hate this for him. He still hasn’t gotten that first win as a starter but he has been playing out of this world,” said tight end Hunter Henry, who had four receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown.
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