Justin Herbert and Michael Badgley deliver Chargers to thrilling comeback win

Chargers kicker Mike Badgley celebrates with Hunter Henry, left, and Ty Long after hitting a 43-yard field goal.
Chargers kicker Mike Badgley (4) celebrates with Hunter Henry, left, and Ty Long after hitting a 43-yard field goal as time expires to beat the Falcons 20-17 at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Justin Herbert and the Chargers overcome plenty Sunday to win a football game.

They overcame the Atlanta Falcons.

And a halftime deficit.

And themselves.

Herbert, the team’s breakout rookie, directed his first career fourth-quarter game-winning drive, moving the offense into position for Michael Badgley to kick a 43-yard field goal as time expired for a 20-17 victory.


The Chargers had lost two in a row and five of six before improving to 4-9 by beating the 4-9 Falcons at SoFi Stadium.

“Anytime you get a win, it’s great no matter when it is,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “We were definitely in need of one. It’s going to do some good things for the locker room.”

Even in victory, however, coach Anthony Lynn was forced to answer more questions about his team’s struggles with game strategy and clock management, issues that have plagued the Chargers — particularly of late.

This time, they botched a drive at the end of the first half, costing them a chance for points that would prove to be quite valuable later.

Facing a third-and-one situation at the Atlanta eight-yard line, the Chargers had no timeouts left with 22 seconds remaining. They inexplicably attempted a running play.

“You can not run the ball in that situation,” Lynn said afterward. “You just can’t. … That’s an area where we’ve got to improve as a coaching staff communication-wise, and we will.”

After Kalen Ballage was stopped for no gain, Herbert and several other Chargers appeared to be uncertain about where the ball was being spotted by officials, perhaps thinking they had picked up the necessary one yard.


After the game, Herbert said the plan was to secure the first down and then spike the ball to stop the clock.

Instead, now facing fourth down, the Chargers tried to run Badgley and the kicking team out, as the offense moved toward the sideline.

In the scramble and confusion, with time about to expire, Badgley’s 26-yard try came with what looked like 15 Chargers on the field. They were called for an illegal shift, ending the half with the Falcons leading 17-10.

Fans have been spared watching the Chargers’ on-field gaffes in person, but the team could be turning into football’s version of the Sterling-Era Clippers.

Dec. 13, 2020

“I believe in the coaching staff 100%,” Herbert said. “We could have been better.”

The Chargers made the same mistake — running the ball with no timeouts remaining — at the end of a 27-17 loss at Buffalo in Week 12.

On Sunday, they had enough time and enough defense to win anyway. The Chargers shut out the Falcons in the second half, ending three of Atlanta’s four possessions with interceptions.

Rayshawn Jenkins, Jahleel Addae and Michael Davis all picked off Matt Ryan, Davis’ play ending what was looking like a winning drive for the Falcons and setting up Herbert for the final push.

The Chargers took over at their 26-yard line with 30 seconds remaining. They were operating without right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, both of whom had left the game to be evaluated for concussions.

Herbert also didn’t have wide receiver Mike Williams, who sat out most of the afternoon because of a back issue. Allen was limited, too, because of soreness in his lower back.

After an incompletion on first down, Herbert hit Jalen Guyton for an eight-yard gain. Then he passed to Hunter Henry for 15 more yards.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert avoids being tackles by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert avoids being tackles by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. during the second half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Following a timeout, Herbert made his biggest play of the series, connecting with Tyron Johnson for a 25-yard pick up along the sideline.

After a short Ballage run and another timeout, Badgley converted the winner, giving the Chargers just their fourth victory in their last 20 one-score decisions dating to last season.

“The kid’s been amazing,” Allen said of Herbert, who finished 36 of 44 for 243 yards. “He steps up again today and makes some plays. It’s big.”

In winning his third game in 12 starts, Herbert threw touchdown passes to Allen and Johnson. Allen was targeted 11 times — matching his NFL-leading per-game average — and had nine receptions for 52 yards.

The Chargers’ secondary — a group that goes by “JackBoyz” — intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan three times, playing a critical role in a 20-17 win.

Dec. 13, 2020

Along the way, he also made history. With 623 catches, Allen has the most through 100 career NFL games. And Sunday marked just his 99th game. Antonio Brown had the previous record of 622.

Allen also became just the fourth player with at least 95 receptions in four consecutive seasons.

“Getting him the ball is kind of our way of moving this offense,” Herbert said. “Really happy for him. Statistics don’t lie. He’s had an incredible career. Looking forward to watching him continue.”

The Chargers will continue with a short week, their next game coming Thursday night in Las Vegas. It might be a welcomed quick turnaround for a team that has dragged through so much of this season.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 20-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

Dec. 13, 2020