Justin Herbert had the right idea when he lowered his throwing shoulder late in the fourth quarter Sunday to run over a Jacksonville Jaguars defender and secure the Chargers’ first victory in a month.
But having the star quarterback deliver hits wasn’t what Chargers coach Anthony Lynn meant when he asked his team to find a killer instinct to close out games.
Herbert hasn’t been the problem during the Chargers’ struggles to hold double-digit leads, but considering what has transpired since he took over as the starter in Week 2, the rookie wasn’t going to take any chances. Herbert gained 7 yards on his memorable second-and-8 run that ended with Jaguars cornerback Tre Herndon flying backward with 2:25 left in regulation.
Running back Joshua Kelley got the last yard, followed by three kneel-downs from Herbert to earn his first career victory as a starter. The Chargers snapped a four-game losing streak with the 39-29 win at SoFi Stadium.
“He put his shoulders down and he ran over someone,” said Lynn, a former running back. “The sideline kind of erupted when he did that. That’s the way he leads sometimes. But in this league, I want you to slide.”
The 6-foot-6, 236-pound rookie quarterback doesn’t plan on lowering his shoulder again anytime soon.
“That’s probably the last time I’ll do that,” Herbert said with a smile. “I got a couple high-fives here and there, but I gotta be smarter.”
Herbert lifted his team with his right arm and legs after the Chargers squandered a double-digit lead for the fourth time in five games. The Chargers blew a 16-point advantage in the third quarter, but they regained the lead on Herbert’s perfect 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Virgil Green. The Chargers trailed again later in the quarter, but Herbert hit wide receiver Jalen Guyton in stride for a 70-yard touchdown pass.
Herbert made sure the Chargers didn’t lose the lead for a third time. He passed for 347 yards and set a franchise single-game quarterback record with 66 rushing yards.
It was the most running Herbert had done in a game since he dashed for three touchdowns in this year’s Rose Bowl game for Oregon.
“He showed that he has the versatility to hurt you with his legs and his arm,” Lynn said.
The Chargers opened the playbook Sunday to feature more of Herbert’s athleticism, starting with a designed read-option run that covered 31 yards during the first quarter. It was the longest run by a Chargers quarterback since Mark Malone in 1988.
But Lynn estimated that half of Herbert’s nine runs weren’t designed plays.
“I would say half of it was on his own,” Lynn said. “Just him growing up and knowing when to leave that pocket and knowing when to stay in there and throw it.”
In his first start against the Kansas City Chiefs, Herbert had an opportunity to run for a first down but opted for a pass into triple coverage that was intercepted and led to the Chiefs’ comeback victory.
Herbert chose the right opportunities to run Sunday, but Lynn wants him to slide instead of taking hits or initiating contact with defenders.
The Chargers had a strange two-play sequence in the first quarter with backup quarterback Easton Stick while Herbert was on the sideline. Stick had his first career completion on a 4-yard pass to Mike Williams and lost 2 yards on a run.
Lynn said he wanted to spark the rushing attack while avoiding hits to his starting quarterback.
“Some of those were quarterback-driven plays where he may have to run the football,” Lynn said. “I don’t want to put Justin in a situation where he may have to run the football too many times. I don’t like my quarterback getting hit.”
Lynn said he wants to utilize Herbert’s legs as the season progresses, but not as much as teams such as the Buffalo Bills do with Josh Allen.
“It definitely won’t be the focal point of our offense,” Lynn said. “But every now and then you may see something like that.”
GREEN TO MISS TIME
Green injured his right ankle on his acrobatic touchdown catch and needed help off the field.
Lynn said the tight end will miss time, but he wasn’t sure if he’ll be placed on injured reserve, which would force him to miss at least three games.
The Chargers will miss Green’s blocking, but Lynn said Donald Parham Jr. is capable of filling that role. Parham’s snaps have increased, but he’s primarily been used as a red-zone target because of his 6-foot-8 frame.
“Donald is gonna have to step up and play,” Lynn said. “He’s been coming in as the red-zone guy, but now he’s gonna have to step up and play and I believe he can get it done.”
Parham has two career catches, both touchdowns. His second score came Sunday on a 22-yard pass from Herbert in the second quarter.
NO KICKER WORKOUTS
Lynn said he doesn’t have plans to hold kicker tryouts with Michael Badgley struggling to make kicks.
Badgley missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt and an extra-point attempt against the Jaguars. He’s 9 for 13 on field-goal attempts and 14 for 16 on PATs this season.
“We have all the confidence in the world in Mike right now,” Lynn said.