Chargers’ future is unclear, except Justin Herbert will lead them there
He has assembled one of the most accomplished rookie seasons in NFL history, voices throughout the league celebrating the arrival of the young quarterback.
There is one person, however, who has not been overly impressed by Justin Herbert:
“He don’t give a damn about records,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “He wants to win. He cares about his teammates. That’s the sign of a good future leader.”
Everything about Herbert’s future appears to be very good as he enters the finale of his first professional season Sunday afternoon against the Chiefs in Kansas City.
He has established numerous high marks for an NFL rookie, added his name to several top-10 single-season record lists for quarterbacks and, after losing seven of his first eight starts, put together late drives to win three games in a row.
While Justin Herbert has gotten a lot of attention, Chargers rookie Kenneth Murray Jr. has also established himself as a potential leader for the team.
From his first snap in September, Herbert hasn’t stopped standing out, even as he has been fully committed to blending in.
“Justin’s been about nothing but working and hanging out with the boys,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “I love that mentality because it’s easy to work with someone like that.
“That’s what I love about the guy. He’s not saying, ‘It’s all about me.’ He’s willing to, you know, say, ‘Let’s share the love and let’s make a team effort to move forward.’”
The Chargers (6-9) enter an offseason full of question marks that extend throughout the organization. Lynn has a year remaining on his contract but so far has received no public endorsement from ownership.
The organization has found its next potential franchise quarterback. Herbert appears to be the answer that some NFL teams continue to search for annually with little success.
“You gotta have one in this league,” Lynn said. “I mean, that’s why that’s the key position in football. … This young man certainly has done a good job of coming in here as a rookie and gaining the trust and the belief of his teammates.”
In the last three weeks, Herbert has:
—Led the Chargers on a six-play, 49-yard drive in 31 seconds to set up Michael Badgley’s winning field goal with no time left against Atlanta.
—Scored on a one-yard lunge with 1:29 remaining in overtime to finish a five-play, 75-yard march to beat Las Vegas.
—Directed a 56-yard drive in just over two minutes to set up Badgley for another game-winner in the final minute against Denver.
In those three games, Herbert completed 72% of his passes for 810 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating: 104.9.
“Having a guy like that on the field, there’s never a time where you think you’re not going to win the game,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “There’s never a time where you think we don’t have control of the game, even when we’re down.”
Herbert has done even more with his 2020 performance than rewrite past records. He also altered his team’s immediate future.
Beginning the season on the bench, he was expected to stay there behind veteran Tyrod Taylor until further notice.
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is trying to stay focused on Sunday’s season finale against the Chiefs with potential offseason changes looming.
When Taylor was unavailable in Week 2, Herbert started against the Chiefs and played too well in the following weeks for the Chargers to go back to Taylor despite Lynn repeatedly saying that was the plan.
After his third game, Herbert was completing 71.9% of his attempts and averaging 310 yards. He had passed for five touchdowns and run for a sixth, and Lynn knew there was only one choice to make.
“That sold me,” the coach said. “He was our quarterback for the future. To me, it didn’t make any sense prolonging that, just let him get started right now.
“He’s always had a big arm and a nice skill set. He can move in the pocket. He can beat you with his legs when he has to. But, as the year has gone on, you do see him rising to the occasion and being at his best when the team needs him to be at his best, and that’s a great sign.”
Herbert’s 2020 began by leading Oregon to a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. It ended with him preparing to cap a season during which he emerged as the favorite to win NFL offensive rookie of the year.
In between, he validated his No. 6 selection in the draft and gave a team too often left searching in defeat a reason to believe.
Who knows where the Chargers are headed after Sunday? What is known is who will be leading them there.
“I think we really, really, really like struck gold when we got Justin Herbert in the draft,” Jones said. “To see somebody that special, at a young age and to know what he could be, that’s amazing.”
Amazing to many, perhaps. But not to Justin Herbert, who, despite all he’s accomplished, remains hard to impress.
The Chargers announced that safety Jahleel Addae, who has been unable to practice because of an ankle injury, will miss the game in Kansas City.
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