Justin Herbert shows off talent in surprise start as Chargers fall to Chiefs in OT

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert runs into the end zone for a touchdown Sunday.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert runs into the end zone for a touchdown before being hit by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Michael Danna during the first half Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers played the franchise’s first game Sunday at SoFi Stadium, the shiny, critically acclaimed architectural marvel in Inglewood.

Incredibly, on this day, there was a more notable debut for the team.

Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert was a late replacement at starting quarterback, producing several highlights, a pair of touchdowns and the first of what could be many 300-yard passing games for him.

But the Chargers were unable to hold on to a double-digit third-quarter lead, falling to Kansas City and its young star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, 23-20 in overtime.


Saying Herbert was a late replacement might not be strong enough. Tyrod Taylor warmed up before the game, working with the first team and appearing ready to go.

But coach Anthony Lynn said he was told Taylor would be unable to start just after the coin toss. Herbert said Lynn informed him he was starting “five or 10 seconds before kickoff.”

The Chargers don’t know how serious Tyrod Taylor’s condition is, but if he is healthy, coach Anthony Lynn says the quarterback will start next week against Carolina.

Sept. 20, 2020

“It took me about 30 seconds to process,” Lynn said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

Taylor was late coming out of the locker room before the game. The Chargers announced a short time later that he was questionable because of a chest issue.

Harrison Butker kicks a 58-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Kansas City Chiefs to a 23-20 overtime win.
Harrison Butker kicks a 58-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Kansas City Chiefs to a 23-20 overtime win over the Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Sunday night, the team said in a statement that he had experienced difficulty breathing, was transported to a hospital for evaluation and since had been discharged. Taylor’s status moving forward was not immediately known as the team will continue to monitor his situation.

On Friday, Taylor appeared briefly on the Chargers’ official injury report with what was described at the time as a rib issue.


“I think everybody on the whole team was surprised,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We just tried to rally around the young boy, let him know that we had his back. … I thought he played a solid, great game.”

Herbert, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft in April, finished 22 of 33 for 311 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a score.

Taylor opened the season as the starter and was expected to hold the job as long as the Chargers were successful. At the same time, Herbert would be groomed as a potential long-term solution at the position.

Suddenly, everything changed. With nearly no warning.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes runs past diving Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes runs past diving Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray during the second quarter at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“He was in a little bit of shock,” Lynn said of Herbert. “I think he thought I was joking. I had to tell him a couple times, ‘No, seriously, you’re the starting quarterback.’ Once he realized he was the guy, he was fine.”

Herbert said he really didn’t believe Lynn was kidding, acknowledging only that he was “surprised a little bit.”


His performance indicated he wasn’t overly nervous. Herbert led the Chargers on an eight-play, 79-yard scoring drive to start the game. He ran four yards for the touchdown to cap his first series as a pro.

“He did not flinch,” Lynn said. “I was pleased with the way he stepped up and handled the situation.”

Herbert led the Chargers on an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive in the second quarter. He connected with Jalen Guyton from 14 yards out for his first career touchdown pass.

Under Herbert’s direction, the Chargers also produced second-half drives that lasted 12 and 17 plays and resulted in field goals.

The output represented a stark departure from a week earlier, when the Chargers’ offense appeared clunky throughout a 16-13 victory at Cincinnati.

“It was great to see Herbie out there,” defensive end Joey Bosa said. “For it being his first game, I thought he showed a lot of great stuff.”

The lowlight for Herbert was his first NFL interception. The Chargers were leading 17-9 and driving late in the third quarter, the possibility of moving up two scores on the reigning Super Bowl champions almost in reach.


On second-and-two at the Kansas City 39-yard line, Herbert had room to scramble for the first down. Instead, he stopped and lofted the ball over the middle toward Keenan Allen. The pass was picked off by cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.

The Chargers lost to the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs in overtime, but L.A. rookie Justin Herbert performed well in his first NFL start, which was a surprise to all.

Sept. 20, 2020

“It would have been great if I just taken off and got what I could have,” Herbert said. “Unfortunately, I threw it. ... We can’t turn the ball over to a team like that and expect to get away with it.”

Matters finally caught up with the Chargers late when Mahomes starting scrambling for first downs and Harrison Butker kicked a 30-yard field goal as time expired to make it 20-20.

Butker kicked a 58-yarder — his second from that distance on the day — to win it with 1:55 left in overtime.

“I thought for the most part we executed the game plan,” Lynn said. “We just didn’t finish it. When you’re going up against the champions, it can’t come down to a decision. We have to knock ’em out. We did not do that.”

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 23-20 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Sept. 20, 2020