Chargers reveal how they blew it trying to protect injured quarterback Justin Herbert

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) is pressured by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Travon Walker.
Travon Walker and the Jaguars kept the pressure on injured Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) in Week 3.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Justin Herbert and his fractured rib cartilage absolutely personified the NFL’s long-standing designation of “questionable” Sunday.

The cloudiness around Herbert’s status was so pronounced that — even after the quarterback started against Jacksonville — the uncertainty leaked into the game, impacting the Chargers’ play calling.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi admitted Thursday he might have erred in trying to protect Herbert.


“I probably made it a little murkier than it needed to be,” Lombardi said. “I think he was truly a game-time decision. Pregame he’s like, ‘Look, I’m good. So don’t worry about it.’

“I probably was a little cautious at first, wanting to see how it was going. I think he was fine. I should have listened and internalized what he was saying and how he was feeling a little bit more.”

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The Chargers ran the ball to open two of their first four series, each of which featured Herbert throwing mostly quick, short passes.

They began with two three-and-outs, followed by consecutive turnovers — Herbert fired a pass off running back Sony Michel’s hands for an interception and then fumbled as he was being sacked.

On the second series, in attempt to keep the Jaguars defenders off Herbert, Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater was called for only the fourth holding penalty of his career.


The total of those four possessions: 12 plays, 15 net yards and one first down.

By the time Herbert got the ball back for his next series, the Chargers were trailing 13-0.

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Lombardi was asked if the doubt surrounding Herbert’s health also affected the rest of the offense.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “We didn’t play well. Could have been a lot of factors that went into that. But certainly not going to be an excuse this week.”

When the Chargers play at Houston on Sunday, the expectation is that Herbert’s situation will be more settled, eliminating many of the questions. On Thursday, he was listed as a full participant in practice after being limited the day before.

Coach Brandon Staley talked Wednesday about how Herbert’s experience against Jacksonville should help him moving forward. Lombardi echoed that idea while adding the experience should aid all the Chargers.

“Watching what the quarterback did last week, I think there’s a lot more calm among everybody, knowing how he’s going to respond and how he’s going to feel on game day,” Lombardi said. “There was just a lot of uncertainty last week …

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“I think he had his mind [made] up that he was going to play. But he didn’t know what that was going to look like. Having gone through it, he’s got more confidence in what this whole process is going to be like.”

After not throwing in practice during the media-viewing portion Wednesday, Herbert did throw Thursday. That was the same schedule the Chargers used with him a week ago.

Staley said the key will be finding “a rhythm, a new rhythm” with Herbert in terms of balancing his practice and preparation with trying to prevent his rib injury from worsening.

“But I do think it’s still in that day-to-day,” Staley said, “because we’re still at the beginning of it.”


Wide receiver Keenan Allen, who has missed the last two games because of a hamstring injury, left practice with an athletic trainer during the portion open to the media. A short time later, the team released its official injury report listing Allen as a limited participant for the second day in a row. So it remains unclear why Allen was seen walking off the field. ... Staley is scheduled to meet with reporters early Friday afternoon after the Chargers release their next injury report and designations for the game against Houston. Also listed as limited Thursday were two starters, center Corey Linsley (knee) and cornerback J.C. Jackson (ankle), and backup tight end Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring).