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Justin Herbert and Chargers could use a little Vegas luck vs. Raiders

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert hands the ball off to running back Kalen Ballage.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert hands the ball off to running back Kalen Ballage during Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons.
(John Cordes / Associated Press)

He had his first game-winning drive Sunday.

Now Justin Herbert, the Chargers’ rookie quarterback, has a rematch with the opponent against whom he had his first gut-punching drive.

On Nov. 8, the Las Vegas Raiders beat Herbert and the Chargers at SoFi Stadium in a manner dramatic enough that the decision literally rang from sea to sea.

“We thought we won the game,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn recalled this week. “In New York, they took it away from us.”

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On the final play that day, Herbert passed to tight end Donald Parham Jr. for what initially was ruled to be a four-yard touchdown pass. The Chargers proceeded to go bananas in joyous relief.

But, after a few minutes, the call was reversed upon replay review, setting in motion the odd sight of a game ending so tightly that both teams celebrated victory.

The Chargers intercepted Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan three times in their 20-17 win Sunday. They hope to do more of the same against the Raiders.

The Chargers will take another shot at the Raiders on Thursday night when the franchise visits Las Vegas for the first time, this being a business trip to a destination where most people go to not work.

“I’m actually planning a golf trip soon after the season in Vegas,” Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa said. “So I’ll make up for it then.”

Herbert has done plenty and then some during his first year. He has a chance to set several single-season rookie records over the Chargers’ final three games.

On Sunday, he added a significant career first when he led the Chargers to victory in the final 31 seconds against Atlanta.

Herbert completed three passes for 48 yards to set up Michael Badgley’s game-deciding 43-yard field goal on the final play for a 20-17 win.

“In this league, a lot of games come down to the wire,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “To get one of those early in his career, it’s going to be big moving forward for him.”

The Chargers need to find a way to bolster their running attack with Austin Ekeler, if he plays. The secondary could be primed for another big game.

Along with an ability to be precise while on the move, Herbert this season also has displayed an ability to be sharp in eluding praise. Asked about his game-winning drive, he credited the defense for getting the ball back.

As for all the records he has set or could set, Herbert said those numbers matter little compared to the ones on the scoreboard.

“I think winning the rest of [our] games would mean the most to me,” he said. “That’s always been the plan … I think that’s what’s most important to the team.”

When this season began, Herbert was on the bench. He was the backup to Tyrod Taylor and had no assurances he’d even play in 2020.

That notion seems almost impossible three months later, with Herbert considered the runaway favorite to win the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year award.

In deflecting more attention on his individual accomplishments, he mentioned Steichen and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton for helping prepare him to step in when Taylor was unable to start in Week 2.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league wants to honor healthcare workers by allowing some of them to attend the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

The Chargers are only 3-9 in Herbert’s starts, but those results fail as storytellers. In a season during which they’ve lost so much, the Chargers might have found their next franchise quarterback.

“It’s been a tough year for all of us, and I know it has [been] for him, too,” tight end Hunter Henry said. “He’s putting up a lot of great numbers and playing great. We just haven’t been able to come up with some of those wins for him.”

The losing ways certainly predate Herbert. The Chargers haven’t won an AFC West game since Dec. 30, 2018. They’ve lost nine in a row and finish the season with three straight games in the division.

On Thursday, Herbert won’t have right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who has been in concussion protocol. Three of the Chargers’ primary weapons — wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and running back Austin Ekeler — are all questionable.

Herbert, though, will be armed with the confidence that he can lead a fourth-quarter, game-winning drive in the NFL and the reassurance the Chargers can win tight decisions. Before Sunday, they had lost 16 of their previous 19 one-score games.

“Just to be able to pull out a close win like that is huge, especially on a short week going into a Thursday game,” Bosa said. “Losing a close game like that would have been pretty tough.”

After so many difficult defeats, Herbert and the Chargers now can win twice in five days.


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