Battle of young guns has legs: Chargers’ Justin Herbert vs. Ravens’ Lamar Jackson
Justin Herbert led the Chargers to touchdowns on their final four full possessions Sunday, the team coming back from a 14-point deficit for a dramatic last-minute win.
Over the last three games, Herbert has thrown for 11 touchdowns and run for a 12th with no turnovers.
There has been talk of the second-year pro emerging as a league MVP candidate.
Yet, entering Sunday, Herbert won’t even be the quarterback with the most feel-good momentum when the Chargers visit Baltimore.
Lamar Jackson is coming off a head-shaking performance in which he completed 37 of 43 attempts for 442 yards and four touchdowns, and also ran 14 times for 62 yards.
The Ravens scored touchdowns on their final four possessions, too, to bounce back from a 19-point hole and defeat Indianapolis in overtime.
The Chargers face another tough test against the Baltimore Ravens, entering the game as three-point underdogs after a thrilling win over the Browns.
“He can run,” Herbert said of Jackson. “He can throw. I don’t think his game through the air gets enough credit. … If the protection breaks down, he’s able to get out of there and make plays that no one else on this planet can make.”
The Ravens have spoken in tones similar this week about Herbert. Tones similar but also somewhat baffling.
Defensive coordinator Don Martindale told reporters in Baltimore that Herbert “could throw a strawberry through a battleship,” a line apparently first uttered years ago by former NFL head coach Rex Ryan.
On Friday, Herbert was asked for his reaction to that assessment.
“I just hope he meant it in a nice way,” Herbert said after an initial blank stare.
Told that the comment was intended to praise his arm strength, Herbert smiled and added, “I really appreciate the kind words.”
Praising Herbert has become a weekly tradition in and around the Chargers’ Costa Mesa training facility. He ranks among the top 10 in just about every significant statistical category.
The Chargers currently have the worst run defense in the NFL, and coach Brandon Staley says he believes the problems lie with assignments on the defensive line.
The Chargers have won eight of his last nine starts dating to last season and, at 4-1, are tied with Baltimore and Buffalo for the AFC’s best record.
“His mindset is that no-blink mentality,” center Corey Linsley said. “He scrambles, maybe he gets hit, maybe something happens. Next play, he comes into the huddle, and he might be excited coming in, but it’s just next play.
“That sort of focus and intent that he has every play, and then you see him make the plays — it’s just a huge confidence builder for us. It’s part of who he is.”
A year ago at this time, Herbert was making back-to-back starts against Tom Brady and Drew Brees, two all-time greats.
Now, he’s in a stretch of matching up against Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Jackson — three of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks — in four weeks.
“My whole job is always to get the guys that make the plays the ball,” Herbert said. “Just give them the ball and they’ll make something special happen.”
The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners of Week 6 of the 2021 NFL season.
Against Jackson and the Ravens, this collision of momentum could come down to who makes something special happen last.
Coach Brandon Staley said the Chargers are “hopeful” wide receiver Mike Williams can play Sunday. He did not practice this week because of swelling in his knee. “We just tried to be careful with him this week, at the beginning of the week, to make sure that he’s feeling his best for Sunday,” Staley said. ... Safety Nasir Adderley is questionable because of a hip pointer. ... Linebacker Drue Tranquill was ruled out Friday as he deals with a chest-muscle injury. Staley said the Chargers plan to have rookies Nick Niemann and Amen Ogbongbemiga split time to fill in for Tranquill. The team already is without linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr., who is on injured reserve with an ankle problem. ... Running back Justin Jackson (groin) will return against Baltimore after missing one game.
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