[Photo] Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) attempts to pitch the ball while being pressured by the Jacksonville Jaguars defense during the second half of their NFL football game in Inglewood Sunday, Sept. 25. Valley News/Andrez Imaging
— By GREG BEACHAM
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Even after the Los Angeles Chargers fell behind by 28 points late in the fourth quarter on a dismal Sunday afternoon, Justin Herbert insisted on staying in the game with his fractured rib cartilage.
Brandon Staley acceded to his franchise quarterback’s wishes, and the head coach says he understood the risks he was taking — both with Herbert’s health and with the Chargers’ entire remaining season beyond this embarrassing 38-10 defeat.
“He wanted to be out there with his teammates,” Staley said. “He felt good, and he wanted to finish the game. He wanted to give our group some energy, and we were going to protect him there at the end, really sound protection, the best we could. But it was more about him wanting to finish with his guys.”
Staley’s refusal to make the conventional, prudent decision confounded many NFL observers watching the injury-filled Chargers’ performance around the country. Plenty of Bolts fans at SoFi Stadium also couldn’t believe Herbert was still throwing passes and potentially taking hits with his team irretrievably behind in only the third game of the season.
“I just didn’t want to quit on the team,” Herbert said. “(It was) obviously a tough day for us, but I didn’t want to go out, and it felt like we were getting the ball out quick. … It’s what the team needs, and sometimes you have to put your own goals and everything behind the (needs of the) team. I think that’s what’s most important. I felt like I was safe out there.”
Herbert wasn’t even sure he was going to play at all until he tested his ribs in pregame warmups. He apparently didn’t injure himself more extensively, even while the Jaguars got one sack and six quarterback hits as he played into the final minute of a blowout.
Herbert insisted the risk was worth it.
“It’s part of the game, dealing with injuries and dealing with pain,” Herbert said. “A lot of guys in that locker room don’t feel great, and it’s all about how you react and how you respond, and I’m going to do everything I can to go to treatment, take care of my body, and hopefully the thing will go away.”
Herbert said he had no physical limitations on the field, yet his accuracy and arm strength didn’t appear to be at their usual brilliance while he went 25 of 45 for 297 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Chargers trailed 13-0 before Herbert’s only touchdown pass late in the first half, and they managed just one more scoring drive.
Herbert’s ribs got hurt on a hard hit by Kansas City’s Michael Danna 10 days ago. He stretched his streak of regular-season starts to 35, but he practiced sparingly during the week and then went 3 of 7 for 27 yards with two turnovers on the Bolts’ first four drives.
“Justin is going to be feeling like this when he’s out there playing,” Staley said. “This injury is going to be there for a while. If you guys know the injury, it’s not like it’s going to feel better next week or the week after that.”
The Chargers had all three of their quarterbacks active for the first time since Week 2 against Kansas City in 2020, with backup Chase Daniel and third-stringer Easton Stick also available. Neither got the call.
Herbert refused to say whether he had a pain-killing injection in his ribs before the game, but he praised the Chargers’ medical staff. He surpassed 900 completions and 10,000 yards passing in the loss, becoming the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach the completion milestone.
The injury is Herbert’s first significant health setback since being the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft — but it’s not just Herbert’s ribs that should concern the Chargers (1-2), a popular preseason playoff pick in danger of falling into an early season hole.
Injury problems are hitting the top of the roster for the Bolts, who were without several vital players in their second consecutive defeat. Herbert and the Chargers faced Jacksonville without Keenan Allen, their top receiver; Corey Linsley, their starting center; and JC Jackson, their top cover cornerback.
When the game started, it got even worse.
Los Angeles lost Joey Bosa to a groin injury in the first half, and the star pass rusher watched the second half in street clothes. Left tackle Rashawn Slater then injured his biceps early in the second half, and receiver Jalen Guyton hurt his knee while attempting to make a long reception with 1:54 to play.
“(Herbert) threw the ball well out there today, and throughout warmups and the game,” Staley said. “We didn’t do a good enough job as a football team today in all phases.”