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A ‘relaxed’ Justin Herbert is ready to win some games for Chargers

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert warms up before Sunday's game at Tampa Bay.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert warms up before last week’s game at Tampa Bay. He threw for three touchdowns with an interception in a 38-31 loss.
(Jason Behnken / Associated Press)

He is the starter without question and — perhaps just as importantly — with assurances.

In declaring Justin Herbert to be the Chargers’ No. 1 quarterback, coach Anthony Lynn made it clear that the rookie will not face demotion just for throwing a bad pass or having a rough game.

Herbert, in his first session with the media since officially taking over, indicated Saturday that the public support can only help him.

“There’s no better feeling than going out there and being relaxed and just going to play football,” he said. “I think that’s when I’m at my best, just enjoying the game, having fun, making plays.”

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Herbert and the Chargers will travel to face New Orleans on Monday night. The game will mark Herbert’s fourth consecutive start but first as the undisputed No. 1.

He is taking over for veteran Tyrod Taylor, who has been out since Week 2 because of a punctured lung and fractured ribs.

Lynn originally had planned to give the job back to Taylor when he is fully healed. But the coach changed his mind after watching Herbert throw for 931 yards and five touchdowns through three games.

The defense had been one of the high points of the Chargers’ season before Tom Brady led the Buccaneers on a scoring spree in Week 4.

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“He’s just been a baller,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said of Herbert, the No. 6 overall pick in April. “He never gets too high. He never gets too low. He’s throwing shots against cover zero [a blitzing scheme], getting hit, throwing the deep ball and it’s on the money. That’s big stuff.”

Taylor returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis and worked out the last three days. But the Chargers ruled him out for Monday, meaning Easton Stick will remain Herbert’s backup.

In his 10th season, Taylor also lost the starting job to a rookie (Baker Mayfield) because of injury early in the 2018 season when he was with Cleveland. He declined an interview request for this story.

Taylor suffered his punctured lung Sept. 20 during a pregame injection by a member of the Chargers’ medical staff. The NFL Players Assn. is investigating the incident.

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“I definitely feel for Tyrod,” Herbert said. “He’s been an incredible teammate throughout this entire process. I know he’s got the team’s best interest in mind.”

Despite his production, Herbert is still looking for his first victory as a starter. He and the Chargers have lost to Kansas City, Carolina and Tampa Bay by a combined 15 points.

They blew double-digit leads to the Chiefs and Buccaneers and fell to the Panthers when a last-second trick play narrowly missed becoming a game-saving miracle.

Chargers’ Anthony Lynn said Tyrod Taylor would not lose his starting quarterback spot to injury, but Thursday the coach named rookie Justin Herbert the starter.

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Herbert has completed 72% of his passes and leads the NFL in accuracy and yards per attempt when facing pressure, a notable accomplishment for a rookie.

He has proved capable of directing long, time-consuming drives and last week displayed quick-strike skills with scoring throws of 53 and 72 yards.

“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think we score a lot of those touchdowns,” defensive end Joey Bosa said. “A lot of those throws he made were unbelievable.”

Herbert, 22, called his promotion “a moment I’ve dreamed about.” He credited his coaches and teammates while growing up in Oregon, noting “all the hard work we’ve put in over the years.”

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Asked about his ability to perform in the teeth of defensive pressure, particularly last week against blitz-happy Tampa Bay, Herbert praised his offensive line, his coaches and the game plan. He never mentioned his own skills.

“It’s been quite the journey to get here,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy by any means. But now the work begins.”

New Orleans coach Sean Payton knows Herbert from the Senior Bowl, where the Saints interviewed him. He said Herbert’s composure, confidence and recognition of pressure have been especially impressive.

Even still, the Chargers have failed to win since Week 1, when Taylor started in a 16-13 victory at Cincinnati. Allen explained that he had a pep talk with Herbert following the team’s most recent defeat.

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Sam Farmer makes his picks and predictions for the remaining slate of games in Week 5 of the 2020 NFL season.

“He was kind of hanging his head in the locker room, as he’s been doing the past couple weeks because he’s been playing lights out,” Allen said. “We just haven’t been able to get the win for him.”

The next opportunity comes on a national-television stage against a 2-2 Saints team that features a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees but also a defense giving up nearly 31 points per game.

These will be the brightest NFL lights yet for Herbert.

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“I grew up watching ‘Monday Night Football’ games, just dreamed about being out there,” he said. “The chance to go play the New Orleans Saints on ‘Monday Night Football,’ it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Bosa, Williams questionable

Bosa and wide receiver Mike Williams both are questionable for Monday. Bosa has been battling a triceps problem and now has a knee issue. Williams missed the Chargers’ past game because of a hamstring injury.

Both have shown the ability to perform when less than 100% healthy, Williams playing most of last season with an aching knee.

“I don’t want players playing injured,” Lynn said. “Playing with pain is a different story. If they feel like they’re going to hurt themselves, then I don’t want them on the football field.”

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Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) and right guard Trai Turner (groin) won’t play against the Saints.

Pouncey has hip surgery

Lynn said center Mike Pouncey had hip surgery. The veteran, who is out for the season and could be facing the end of his career, is rehabilitating away from the team. ... Since 2017, Allen has caught 77 passes to convert on third down, the most in the NFL. ... The Chargers franchise has dropped its last five games played on Monday night.


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