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Justin Herbert impresses Chargers teammates with ability to bounce back

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert celebrates after a five-yard touchdown run.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert celebrates his five-yard touchdown run to put the Chargers up against the Jacksonville Jaguars at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 25.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The offense was on the field for roughly 90 seconds Sunday before Justin Herberthad a pass intercepted.

After consecutive games with no turnovers — hardly a minor development for a team that has struggling giving the ball away the last two seasons — Herbert’s first throw against Denver fell into the hands of Broncos safety Justin Simmons.

A team desperate to turn its wayward season around suddenly was on its heels again and its rookie quarterback could have been reeling in a similar manner.

Instead, Herbert completed 22 of his next 28 attempts for 216 yards and three touchdowns.

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After recording a tackle — he was credited with stopping Simmons following the interception — before a completion, Herbert completed 13 passes in a row during one stretch.

“I’ve done that before,” he said. “I’ve had to learn from it.”

Coach Anthony Lynn says the Chargers might simplify some defensive schemes to avoid late-game collapses before taking on Las Vegas this weekend.

Indeed, Herbert’s first attempt in his first game as the starter at Oregon was intercepted. The Ducks were playing Washington and safety Budda Baker — now an Arizona Cardinal — picked off Herbert, who at the time was a freshman.

He bounced back decently that day in 2016, though Oregon lost 70-21.

The Chargers lost on Sunday, too, in a way that was much more dramatic and traumatic, building a 21-point lead before crumbling 31-30.

Still, Herbert’s impressive development continued as he displayed the ability to dismiss an early blunder and play well enough to help his team open a three-touchdown lead on the road.

“If you base your entire performance off the first drive, that’s going to be a pretty poor performance for me,” he said. “We had a lot of football left, and we had a lot of time to right the wrong.”

Veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga spent nine seasons in Green Bay playing with Aaron Rodgers, a future Hall of Fame quarterback he said “wills a lot of things into reality.”

When asked Wednesday on a videoconference to compare Herbert and Rodgers, Bulaga diplomatically declined. But he did note the poise that Herbert has shown, particularly after adversity struck quickly versus Denver.

“After he throws a pick on the first series, he didn’t shy away from anything,” Bulaga said. “He went right back at it. ... That’s a good sign for a young guy, no matter if it’s a quarterback or any position.”

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Tre Herndon can't stop Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert scores on a five-yard run against Jacksonville at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 25.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Bulaga, who missed three games because of a back injury before returning Sunday, said Herbert’s growth also is visible in the huddle, where the rookie is “taking control of things.”

To be more accurate, Bulaga said this of “Herbie,” a nickname several Chargers have been using.

In further explaining the moniker, Bulaga said it’s like “Herbie,” from the movie “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” which, he pointed out, stars “the car that talks and stuff.”

“That’s a big-time movie,” Bulaga said. “So ‘Herbie: Fully Loaded,’ you know, why not? Let’s go.”

Bosa’s status uncertain

Defensive end Joey Bosa remains in concussion protocol, his status for the game Sunday against Las Vegas in question.

Bosa was injured during the second half in Denver and couldn’t finish the game. Isaac Rochell is the backup at the position.

Running back Troymaine Pope also is still in concussion protocol. If Pope is unable play Sunday, the Chargers have two running backs available on their practice squad — Darius Bradwell and Kalen Ballage.

Pope gave a struggling ground game a boost with 67 yards on 10 carries against the Broncos.

Without Pope, the Chargers could rely more on rookie Josh Kelley, whose production has fallen off after a solid start. Kelley has averaged only 2.5 yards on 97 carries over the last four games.

Justin Herbert could help the Chargers become SoFi Stadium’s main attraction. The team has nine weeks to decide if Anthony Lynn is the right coach for the job.

He lost fumbles in consecutive in weeks starting in late September, something coach Anthony Lynn said appears to have set Kelley back.

“He’s still learning this game,” Lynn said. “He put a couple balls on the ground. I think he’s been running a little timid. But he’s got to get over that and get back to running like Josh ran in training camp and the first couple weeks.

“We talk about turnovers and not having them. When he has one, he takes it to heart. Sometimes, you can care too much because they can linger. He’ll come to that time where he’ll get over it in his own time. It’s not something you can rush.”

Watching his back

Bulaga suffered a knee injury in Week 2 against Kansas City and suggested that trying to come back too soon might have caused his back problem. He started in Week 3 against Carolina but played less than half the game.

“Good days and bad days” is how Bulaga described the condition now. He said his back has spasmed and locked up at times.

On Sunday, he played the whole game — 87 offensive snaps, in Denver’s thin air — and said he felt fine.

Bulaga said he never has had an injured back. He said doctors warned him about trying rush his recovery.

“If you go out there too early and re-injure it, there’s a chance I could be shut down for the year,” he said. “That’s not something I was gonna risk.”


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