Herbert gets taste of NFL struggle

The Chargers were poised to win in his first start, but ...
By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports.com
Justin Herbert attempts a pass during Sunday's game.
AP photo

Former Oregon football great Justin Herbert had a near-fantastic introduction to the NFL Sunday, nearly leading the Los Angeles Chargers past the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in a surprise start, including leading his team to a touchdown on his opening drive in the league.

Trouble is, the outcome was a loss in overtime, and it showcased why the Chargers are likely to help him to a shorten career, one marked by continued disappointment often regardless of his progress and skill.

The Chargers are just not a good team, and the franchise hasn't been much of a marquee franchise since former Oregon great Dan Fouts played there from 1973 to 1984 - twice reaching the AFC championship game. The team has played in the Super Bowl just once, losing to San Francisco in 1994.

Herbert and his team performed well enough to win - they made it to overtime. But almost is still a loss, and for reasons easy to point to starting with Herbert. In one of the key plays of the game, with his team leading in the third quarter and nearing a first down after scrambling from the pocket, Herbert chose to throw a long pass against his body into a bull market of KC defenders. It turned into an interception at the 5-yard line, which the Chiefs and quarterback Pat Mahomes turned into a 95-yard touchdown drive in just six plays to tie the game at 17.

The Chargers then had a spectacular 17-play drive that lasted more than 10 minutes. But, with first down at the KC 4, the Chargers ran twice up the middle for no yards and Herbert got sacked leading to a 23-yard field goal. KC then drove for a field goal that tied the game at the end of regulation.

LA's play calling coddled Herbert to an amazing degree, even though he finished by completing 22 of 33 passes for 311 yards and one 14-yard touchdown pass that gave the Chargers a 14-6 halftime lead. Almost all of the passes Herbert completed were shorter than 10 yards with extra yards produced by the receiver. That's play-calling for an untested rookie, which is a good thing on the Chargers' part.

The Chargers produced 482 yards of offense - an amazing total for any team in any game. But, they scored only 20 points - a head-scratcher of an outcome.

LA's defense even performed admirably. Despite giving up 414 yards of offense, it stymied Mahomes time and again. But, the Chargers were called for offsides numerous times, which benefitted the Chiefs time and again, including wiping out an interception in the fourth quarter.

The biggest play-call of the game for LA might easily have been fourth-and-1 at the Chargers' 34 on the first drive of overtime. With CBS color commentator urging LA coach Anthony Lynn to throw caution to the wind and go for the first down, which I was basically screaming for at my home office, Lynn chose to punt and the Chiefs drove for a winning field goal. Granted the field goal was a 58-yard attempt, but that's the difference in the two franchises these days. The Chiefs do what's needed to win, while the Chargers do what's needed to almost win.

And, this is inspite of the Chargers winning in their season opener on the road in Cincinatti 16-13, against first-time starter Joe Burrow. The win was with veteran Tyrod Taylor at quarterback and featured the team racking up 362 yards. Again, though, the team scored just 16 points.

LA is headed for a one frustrating season, and without Taylor getting hurt what fans saw Sunday is likely to be the biggest highlight of Herbert's rookie season, which featured short-pass completion after short-pass completion. At least, though, receivers caught the passes, something that dogged former Oregon great Joey Harrington in his career with the Detroit Lions.

Good luck Justin. Hopefully, Sunday's game is the start of a great career with a franchise that desperately needs the results of a quarterback having a great career - turning almost wins into actual wins.

 

Comments