Chargers QB Justin Herbert puts up impressive numbers, but biggest one has eluded him

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert prepares to throw against the Carolina Panthers.
In two weeks, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has more 300-yard passing games than 10-year veteran Tyrod Taylor.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

After two NFL starts, Justin Herbert has more 300-yard passing games than Tyrod Taylor does.

Taylor is in his 10th season and has one.

But Herbert has yet to win a game in this league, the Chargers trying to find their way with a rookie quarterback operating behind a patched-together offensive line.

Herbert threw for 330 yards Sunday in a 21-16 defeat to Carolina, one week after throwing for 311 yards in an overtime loss to Kansas City.


Herbert has two touchdown passes and two interceptions. He’s run for a score and lost a fumble that led to three points for the opposition. He has led the Chargers on scoring drives that, among others, have lasted 10, 10, 11, 12, 16 and 17 plays.

Perhaps his most impressive series netted zero points. Herbert, armed with no timeouts, took the Chargers from their one-yard line in the final 1:46 to within an end-zone incompletion and a failed trick play of beating the Panthers.

“He had great confidence and showed great poise,” coach Anthony Lynn said.

In games decided by a touchdown or less, the Chargers have had little success since the start of the 2019 NFL season.

That last-gasp series Sunday came on an afternoon when Carolina sacked Herbert twice and hit him eight times. Coach Matt Rhule said, by his team’s count, the Panthers pressured Herbert 22 times. The onslaught was produced by a defense that had no sacks and only one quarterback hit in the first two weeks.

The Chargers began the game without right guard Trai Turner, out because of a groin injury, and center Mike Pouncey, whose season has been ended by a hip problem. Then they lost Turner’s replacement, Tyree St. Louis, after three plays when he experienced light-headedness and later right tackle Bryan Bulaga to an injured back.

“The young quarterback stood in the pocket,” Lynn said. “He didn’t flinch as he threw the football and made some completions under pressure.”

Chargers Justin Herbert (10) watches the failed last second trick play against the Panthers.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) watches the failed last second hook-and-ladder attempt against the Carolina Panthers.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

After just three games, the Chargers are well into a second consecutive season of week-to-week turmoil along their offensive front. They added veterans Turner and Bulaga in the offseason to bolster a group the struggled last year, but both have missed time because of injuries.

“Those guys are keeping it together as best they can,” Lynn said. “But every single week it has been a different offensive line. I just thank God we have some depth that we really like so that it’s not as big a deal.”

The Chargers haven’t collapsed en masse upfront. They are fifth in the NFL in rushing yards and have given up six sacks, which is tied for 14th. But they also aren’t building the foundation they envisioned in the summer when their retooled offensive line was expected to be an area of improvement.

“I’m OK with the guys that are going on the field,” Lynn said. “It’s just hard to get that chemistry that you’re looking for and that communication with the O-line when there are so many changes.”

Then he added: “But that’s just the way it is. And I think it’s going to be that way for the rest of the season.”

It’s been a while since the Chargers’ Super Bowl hopes were dashed by Tom Brady. The Chargers play the 43-year-old quarterback and the Bucs in Week 4.

Lynn wouldn’t rule out Taylor for Sunday, when the Chargers play at Tampa Bay. The veteran is dealing with a punctured lung and broken ribs, and the expectation is Herbert will make his third start against Tom Brady, who will be making his 328th start. When Brady debuted in 2000, Herbert was barely 2½ years old.

He could be operating with a depleted receiver corps. Mike Williams left the game Sunday because of a hamstring injury, Lynn saying his status for this week remains unclear. An already thin position group stretched thinner helped contribute to Herbert targeting Keenan Allen 19 times against Carolina, tying the wide receiver’s career high.

“I don’t want him trying to force the football anywhere,” Lynn said. “We have concepts that we believe in and that Justin knows. He’ll deliver the mail wherever it’s supposed to go.”