INGLEWOOD, Calif. — It was an embarrassing loss for the Los Angeles Chargers, made spectacular by an incredibly puzzling decision.
With 4:54 remaining in a 38-10 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, ten days after suffering a fractured rib cartilage, jogged onto the field at SoFi Stadium to play a final series.
“He wanted to be with his teammates,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “He felt good and wanted to finish the match.”
Staley was asked 20 questions by reporters during a seven-minute, 30-second postgame news conference. More than half of the questions were about Herbert and the risk the franchise quarterback faced by staying in the game.
“I get your whole line of questioning, I get it,” Staley said. “Justin is going to feel like this when he’s playing. This injury is going to be there for a while. If they know about the injury, it’s not like he’s going to feel better next week or the week after that. This thing is going to be around for a while. It felt well today and we’re going to continue to handle it the best we can.
Staley said he “definitely” had a conversation with Herbert about staying in the game and confirmed that the quarterback was adamant that he wanted to continue.
“I just didn’t want to give up the team,” Herbert said.
Asked if he needed to protect the franchise quarterback, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft, around whom the organization has built a Super Bowl-caliber roster, Staley said, “Sure.”
“Throughout the entire game, that’s the first thought throughout the game and at the end of the game, so trust me, no one is thinking about that more than me,” Staley said.
For his part, Herbert reiterated that he didn’t want to quit when asked how he balanced the decision to continue playing versus staying on the sidelines to protect himself from further injury.
“It’s what the team needs,” said Herbert, who finished 25-of-45 for 297 yards and a touchdown, with an interception and a lost fumble. “Sometimes you have to put your own goals and everything ahead of, or behind the team and I think that’s the most important thing and I felt like I was safe and I didn’t want to give up my team.”
Herbert, 24, was playing without All-Star wide receiver Keenan Allen, who is suffering from a hamstring injury, and behind a rocky offensive line that allowed the quarterback six hits and a sack.
Veteran center Corey Linsley did not play due to a knee problem and Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater left the game in the third quarter with a biceps injury.
The Chargers were also dealing with several other major injuries.
Pro Bowl edge Joey Bosa also left the game in the first quarter after suffering a groin injury and wide receiver Jalen Guyton was sidelined late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.
Cornerback JC Jackson, who signed an $82.5 million, five-year deal in free agency, missed his second game of the season as he continues to recover from ankle surgery last month.
The Chargers fall to 1-2 and now go on the road to play the Houston Texans (0-2) and the Cleveland Browns (2-1).
Herbert said he knew he would play Sunday “probably right before kickoff.”
“I had a feeling he was going to go in and just go see how he felt,” Herbert said. “Before the warm-ups, I was feeling good, so I was going to keep going.”
When asked if he received a painkiller injection before the game, Herbert declined to provide an answer.
“However I take care of my body, I think that’s one of the things I’d like to keep private,” Herbert said. “I trust the medical staff. I trust the training staff. They’re not going to put me in harm’s way. I felt like it was safe, they felt like it was safe, so I was going to go out there and play.”
Herbert had never missed a game since taking over as the starter in Week 2 of 2020, when then-starter Tyrod Taylor was ruled out minutes before the game after suffering a punctured lung when a team doctor, who now also cares for Herbert attempted to administer an analgesic injection to help the quarterback’s broken ribs.
That doctor is being sued for medical malpractice by Taylor, who is seeking at least $5 million, according to copies of the original lawsuit and subsequent documents related to the case obtained by ESPN.
Against the Jaguars, the Chargers fell behind, 13-0, in the second quarter after the Jaguars scored 10 points on turnovers, including an interception thrown by Herbert and a fumble on the sack.
Herbert recovered to lead a nine-play, 75-yard drive that he capped with a 15-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mike Williams in the corner of the end zone.
Herbert also completed an impressive 54-yard pass to Guyton to open the second half, leading to a 25-yard field goal to turn the game into a possession before the Jaguars pulled away for good.
“He was shooting the ball well,” Staley said. “The protection, the pressure was there today, forcing him to have to speed up sometimes, but he threw the ball well today.”
Herbert said of his performance: “It wasn’t a great day by any means.”
But when asked how he felt physically? “I feel fine,” said Herbert, “thank you.”