Justin Herbert answers call for Chargers, but Tom Brady dials up Buccaneers win

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert scrambles away from Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert scrambles away from Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea during the second half of the Chargers’ loss Sunday.
(Jason Behnken / Associated Press)

Justin Herbert got the call early in his NFL career, stepping in for the Chargers as the surprise starting quarterback in Week 2.

It was even earlier that Herbert got a different call — only that time he didn’t pick up.

And to think it was Tom Brady, his boyhood idol, calling to wish him luck in his senior season at Oregon.

“I think he called me at 4 a.m. Pacific time,” Herbert recalled Sunday. “I wasn’t up yet, so I let it ring. I probably should have answered it had I known it was him.”


The rookie drafted sixth overall reconnected with Brady on Sunday, dialing up all sorts of beautiful passes in a commanding performance at Tampa Bay. The Chargers ultimately lost 38-31, but Herbert — who only got some of the snaps in training camp and had no preseason games — looked remarkably poised and polished.

Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert made some impressive throws, but turnovers doomed the Chargers in their 38-31 loss to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

Oct. 4, 2020

Herbert completed 20 of 25 attempts for 290 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception, for a lofty passer rating of 137.9.

“He was impressive today and played great,” said Brady, who has beaten nine rookie quarterbacks in a row. “Our defense has played great all year, and he hung in there and made a lot of good throws. They hit us on some big plays.”

That included a pristine pass over the top of the defense that Jalen Guyton caught in stride for a 72-yard touchdown, and another to fellow rookie wide receiver Tyron Johnson, just called up from the practice squad, for a 53-yard score. Those were the game’s two longest plays from scrimmage.

“We blitzed him a little bit, and he just stood in there and took it,” Brady said. “He’s got obviously all the abilities, got a great arm, and moves really well. The team believes in him. So he’s off to a great start.”

A great start everywhere but the win column, that is. With Herbert starting in place of Tyrod Taylor, who suffered a punctured lung because of a misplaced painkiller injection, the Chargers have suffered narrow losses to Kansas City, Carolina and Tampa Bay.
Still, with his smooth throwing motion and surprising mobility, the 6-foot-6 Herbert is the embodiment of a blockbuster “coming soon” trailer.

“I told Anthony after the game, You’ve got a great one,’ ” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said, referring to Chargers coach Anthony Lynn.


With two games already postponed because of positive coronavirus tests, the NFL could benefit from expanding the season to an 18th week.

Oct. 3, 2020

Arians was particularly impressed by a play in the second quarter, when the Chargers had a second-and-seven at midfield. Tampa Bay blitzed off the right edge with safety Jordan Whitehead, who was in the backfield in a blink. Herbert deftly sidestepped him, did a bit more stylish shuffling and delivered a pinpoint strike to Keenan Allen for a 17-yard gain.

“That looked like [Chiefs quarterback Patrick] Mahomes, where we had an all-out blitz, and he just kept retreating,” Arians said. “Then he threw a dime down the field. For rookies to make plays like that, you know they’re special.”

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert passes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first half of Sunday's loss.
(Mark LoMoglio / Associated Press)

It had to feel surreal, Herbert, 22, going throw for throw against Brady, 43, in what was the largest age gap between NFL quarterbacks since at least 1950, according to the NFL.

“Despite the loss, it was an awesome experience,” the rookie said. “Just to be out there, playing in Tampa Bay alongside my teammates, it doesn’t get any better than that. Yeah, we lost, but we’re going to learn from it, and I know I’m going to get better from it.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler was carted off the field after sustaining a hamstring injury in the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Bucs.

Oct. 4, 2020

“Over the past couple months, I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing else that I’d rather be doing. Playing football for the Chargers is something that I’ve dreamed about. If I go out there and do everything right, study and work hard, good things will happen.”


For two summers, Herbert was among 40 college counselors at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, soaking in everything he could from Peyton and Eli Manning. Peyton and Brady were his boyhood idols.

Herbert would have been a counselor for three summers in a row, but he participated in a school trip to Uganda during his junior summer. In making his decision to come back for his senior year at Oregon, he sought the opinion of Peyton, who two decades earlier had come back for his senior season at Tennessee.

“Justin’s a great kid who has such a good head,” said Archie Manning, patriarch of the first family of NFL quarterbacks. “To me, he just checks all the boxes.”

On Sunday, Herbert checked another box. He met Brady for the first time.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brady and Brett Favre share the NFL record with 123 different quarterbacks faced.

That’s appropriate for Herbert, who has made the transition from college look as easy as 1-2-3.

Farmer reported from Los Angeles.