INGLEWOOD, Calif. — It was an embarrassing loss for the Los Angeles Chargers, made spectacular only by one incredibly befuddling decision.
With 4:54 remaining in a 38-10 beatdown by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert — 10 days removed from suffering a fracture to his rib cartilage — trotted onto the field at SoFi Stadium to play a final series.
“He wanted to be out there with his teammates,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “He felt good and he wanted to finish the game.”
Reporters asked Staley 20 questions during a seven-minute and 30-second postgame news conference. More than half of the questions were about Herbert and the risk the franchise quarterback faced by remaining in the game.
“I understand your entire line of questioning, I understand it,” Staley said. “Justin is going to be feeling like this when he is out there playing. This injury is going to be there for awhile. If you guys know the injury, it’s not like it’s going to feel better next week or the week after that. This thing is going to be present for awhile. He felt good today and we’re going to continue to manage it the best we can.”
Staley said he “definitely” had a conversation with Herbert about remaining in the game and confirmed that the quarterback was adamant that he wanted to continue.
“I just didn’t want to quit on the team,” Herbert said.
When asked if he needed to protect the franchise quarterback, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft who the organization has built a Super-Bowl caliber roster around, from himself, Staley said, “For sure.”
“Throughout the entire game, that’s the first thought throughout the game and at the end of the game, so trust me, there’s no one that’s thinking about it more than I am,” Staley said.
For his part, Herbert reiterated that he did not want to quit when asked how he balanced the decision to continue playing versus remaining on the sideline 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 lost sack fumble. “Sometimes, you have to put your own goals and everything ahead, or behind the team and I think that’s what’s most important and I felt like I was safe out there and I didn’t want to quit on my team.”
Herbert, 24, was playing without star receiver Keenan Allen, who is nursing a hamstring injury, and behind a cobbled-together offensive line that allowed six quarterback hits and a sack.
Veteran center Corey Linsley did not play because of a knee issue and Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater left the game in the third quarter because of a biceps injury.
The Chargers also were dealing with several other significant injuries.
Pro Bowl edge rusher Joey Bosa also left the game in the first quarter after suffering a groin injury and receiver Jalen Guyton was sidelined late in the fourth quarter because of a knee injury.
Cornerback J.C. Jackson, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract 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 go on the road to play the Houston Texans (0-2) and Cleveland Browns (2-1).
Herbert said he knew he would play Sunday “probably right before kickoff.”
“I had a feeling that I was going to go in and was just going to see how it felt,” Herbert said. “Before warm-ups, it felt good, so I was going to roll with it.”
When asked if he received a pain-killing injection before the game, Herbert declined to provide an answer.
“However I take care of my body, I think that is one of things that I’d like to keep private,” Herbert said. “I trust the medical staff. I trust the training staff. They are 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 starter in Week 2 of 2020, when then-starter Tyrod Taylor was ruled out only minutes before the game after suffering a punctured lung when a team doctor, who is also now caring for Herbert, attempted to administer a pain-killing injection to aid the quarterback’s cracked 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 filings 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 off turnovers, including the interception thrown and lost sack fumble.
Herbert bounced back 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 yard pass to Guyton to open the second half, which led to a 25-yard field goal to make it a one-possession game before the Jaguars pulled away for good.
“He was throwing the football well,” Staley said. “The protection — the rush was there today which forced him to have to speed up at times, but he threw the ball well out there today.”
Herbert said of his performance: “It was not a great day by any means.”
But when asked how he felt physically? “I feel good,” Herbert said, “thank you.”
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