The Sports Report: Justin Herbert makes the extraordinary look ordinary

Quarterback (10) Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers after the Chargers.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert reacts after Sunday’s 24-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders.
(Jeff Lewis / Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Austin Knoblauch, filling in for Houston Mitchell, who’s probably busy prepping the Chase Field hot tub for a Dodgers NL West title celebration. Let’s get right to the news.

From Dylan Hernández: Every now and then, Chargers center Corey Linsley will wonder how the ball possibly could have traveled from Justin Herbert’s hand to its eventual destination. The search for answers usually prompts Linsley to raise his eyes skyward, in the direction of the oval-shaped video board that is suspended from SoFi Stadium’s translucent ceiling.

“We’re always watching replays if something happens,” Linsley said with a laugh.


Enough happened Sunday for the 120-yard-long electronic display to be renamed HerbertVision, the third-year quarterback passing for 279 yards and three touchdowns in the Chargers’ season-opening, 24-19 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders.

The story of the game was how the Chargers’ revamped defense intercepted three of Derek Carr’s passes and registered six sacks, including three by newcomer Khalil Mack.

But let’s be clear: The primary reason the Chargers have any chance of reaching the Super Bowl is Herbert, who is now in his third year of making the extraordinary feel routine.

At the risk at sounding repetitive, Herbert really can play.

He’s the best quarterback in a city in which the other NFL team is the defending Super Bowl champion. Now in his third year, he very well could be the best quarterback in the entire league.

For more on the Chargers, check out Jeff Miller’s story on their win: Dominant Khalil Mack helps revamped Chargers sack Raiders in opener

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Justin Turner celebrates as he circles the bases after hitting a grand slam against the Padres on Sunday.
(Derrick Tuskan / Associated Press)

From Jack Harris: They didn’t mob the mound. They didn’t spray champagne.

If not for the newly-issued hats with a specialty playoff patch on the side, and a scattering of half-empty glasses left over from a brief postgame toast in the clubhouse, it would have been hard to tell that the Dodgers had just clinched a postseason berth at all.

Instead, after an 11-2 rout of the San Diego Padres on Sunday that made them the first team in the majors to punch an October ticket, the Dodgers calmly filed out of Petco Park with bigger goals in mind.


“It’s an accomplishment,” manager Dave Roberts said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Like most of the previous nine years, a Dodgers playoff berth this season felt almost inevitable from the start.

They were coming off a 106-win season and had the highest payroll in the majors. They were World Series favorites in Las Vegas and had a 97.7% likelihood of reaching the playoffs in Fangraphs’ projection model.

Roberts went as far as guaranteeing not only another October run, but a World Series championship too.

And all they’ve done since then is rack up the most wins in the majors (they are 96-43) while building a massive lead in the National League West and an even larger cushion over the playoff cut line.

“To do it this quick is pretty amazing,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said.

Added third baseman Justin Turner, who hit two home runs in the win, including a grand slam: “We got everyone together and Dave gave a short little toast, to just enjoy this one a little bit and know we still have a lot of work to do in front of us.”


Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after winning the U.S. Open men's singles title Sunday.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

From Helene Elliott: The end of the Grand Slam stranglehold enjoyed by the Big Three of men’s tennis has been anticipated for a decade. Especially the last few years, while Roger Federer battled knee problems, Rafael Nadal became hobbled by a chronic foot ailment as well as rib and abdominal injuries, and Novak Djokovic was barred from entering Australia and the U.S. because he has refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Federer is still in recovery mode, but Nadal won the Australian and French Open titles this year, and Djokovic won at Wimbledon while the hyped next generation fizzled out. The real “Next One” arrived Sunday in the form of Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old Spaniard with close-cropped hair, the resilience of youth, and the instincts of a proven pressure player. Now he has a U.S. Open championship too.

Playing his first Grand Slam singles final, Alcaraz earned his first Slam title and the No. 1 world ranking with a skillful and determined 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3 victory over 23-year-old Casper Ruud of Norway. Rising to the distinctive occasion that meant the winner Sunday would be the world No. 1, Alcaraz fired 55 winners, won 34 points at the net, and had emphatic responses to Ruud’s tricky topspin shots.


Georgia Southern coach Clay Helton and his wife, Angela, leave the field after the Eagles' upset over Nebraska.
Georgia Southern coach Clay Helton and his wife, Angela, leave the field after the Eagles’ upset over Nebraska on Saturday night. A year ago this week, Helton was fired by USC after losing to Stanford.
(Steven Branscombe / Getty Images)

From J. Brady McCollough: A year ago, on this same second Saturday night of the college football season, I sat down to write a column demanding that a very nice man lose his job.

Looking back, the shocking thing was that I didn’t feel bad or hesitant as I was writing it. Clay Helton had plenty of time to prove to his preposterously patient bosses he was the right man to lead USC football, and when the Trojans were embarrassed at the Coliseum by Stanford, it was clear his presence on the sideline was only going to lead to more unnecessary pain for legions of USC fans and alums.

Saturday night, after the Trojans easily handled the same Cardinal team in Palo Alto 41-28, I feel even better about it. USC is 2-0 and about to be ranked among the top eight teams in the country. Lincoln Riley, the program’s new head coach, is a young offensive savant with a cutthroat attitude about winning. When I called for Helton’s job, I never could have predicted USC athletic director Mike Bohn would be able to lure Riley away from Oklahoma, but he is exactly the type of coach who should be leading one of America’s most storied programs. He is going to be worth every penny spent.

So, I was already feeling pretty good, absolved of my nonexistent guilt. And then, right as Riley and USC quarterback Caleb Williams were doing their celebratory postgame interviews on ABC, on another TV screen I saw the Georgia Southern Eagles threatening to score a game-winning touchdown over once-mighty Nebraska at venerable Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

It was easy to chuckle when Helton was scooped up last November by the Sun Belt Conference school based in Statesboro, Ga. I joked with friends that the nice folks down there were about to experience the “Statesboro Blues,” a reference to the Allman Brothers Band song title. But, all kidding aside, Helton, who grew up in Florida and Texas and played college football at Auburn, seemed a better cultural fit for a plucky Group of Five program nestled in the heart of the South. Certainly, he had plenty of head coaching experience to draw from, for better or worse.


USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws a pass against Stanford on Saturday.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

From Thuc Nhi Nguyen and Ryan Kartje: When the negatives about USC’s 41-28 win over Stanford snuck in Lincoln Riley’s head — the sluggish second-half offense, getting gashed by Stanford’s running game, a missed field goal — the coach warded them off by remembering where this team came from.

“Look at 12 months ago,” he said repeatedly.

On this same weekend in last year, USC got rolled by Stanford at the Coliseum. It cost the Trojans their coach. It upended the entire season. It led to Riley’s eventual hire.

From those ashes, the Trojans built a team that looked at times Saturday like a juggernaut on offense and won at Stanford for the first time since 2014.


Dorian Thompson-Robinson sits on the bench.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson sits on the bench during the second half against Alabama State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

From Ben Bolch: UCLA had two boxes to check on the way to a presumed 3-0 start against nonconference cupcakes.

Clean up any problem areas.

Avoid injuries.

Through the season’s first two weeks, the Bruins have gone one for two.

The special teams mishaps that plagued them in the opener against Bowling Green were a non-issue Saturday at the Rose Bowl during a 45-7 rout of Alabama State. But quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson went down with an apparent ankle injury, never to return, and running back Zach Charbonnet did not play for undisclosed reasons, leaving their status in doubt for UCLA’s final nonconference game against South Alabama next weekend.


1895 — Defender wins three straight matches from the British challenger Valkyrie II to defend the America’s Cup for the United States.

1936 — Fred Perry becomes the first foreign player to win three U.S. men’s singles titles when he defeats Don Budge, 2-6, 6-2, 8-6, 1-6, 10-8. Alice Marble ends the four-year reign of Helen Jacobs as U.S. women’s singles champion, with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.

1955 — Tony Trabert wins the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championships with a victory over Ken Rosewall. Doris Hart wins the women’s title.

1966 — Australia’s Fred Stolle beats countryman John Newcombe to win the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championships. Stolle wins in four sets, 4-6, 12-10, 6-3, 6-4.

1976 — Jimmy Connors beats Bjorn Borg in four sets to win the U.S. Open.

1979 — Carl Yastrzemski reaches 3,000 hits off of NY Yankee pitcher Jim Beattie.

1981 — Tracy Austin wins her second U.S. Open singles title, edging first-time finalist Martina Navratilova, 1-6, 7-6, 7-6.

1982 — Jimmy Connors wins the U.S. Open, defeating Ivan Lendl, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

1995 — The Harlem Globetrotters’ 24-year, 8,829-game winning streak is stopped. It ends in a 91-85 loss to a team led by basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who scores 34 points in a competitive, unscripted game in Vienna, Austria.

1998 — Lindsay Davenport captures her first Grand Slam tournament singles title, defeating Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-5 at the U.S. Open.

1999 — Andre Agassi comes back from two-sets-to-one down to win his second U.S. Open singles title. Agassi, who never loses his serve, defeats Todd Martin, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-2. It’s the first five-set U.S. Open final in 11 years.

2004 — Roger Federer becomes the first man since 1988 to win three majors in a year, thoroughly outclassing Lleyton Hewitt 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-0 to add the U.S. Open title to those he took at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

2010 — Houston running back Arian Foster rushes for a franchise-record 231 yards and three touchdowns in the Texans’ 34-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Foster is the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 200 yards and three touchdowns for an opening weekend.

2011 — Tom Brady passes for a team-record 517 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yarder to Wes Welker, and the New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins 38-24.

2014 — Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree score 24 points each and the Phoenix Mercury, playing without star center Brittney Griner, beat the Chicago Sky 87-82 to complete a three-game sweep of the WNBA Finals for their third championship.

2015 — Kent State dominates Delaware State in the Golden Flashes’ home opener, 45-13, but it’s overshadowed by a single point-after kick in the second quarter by April Goss. Goss, a four-year member of the Kent State team and a former high school soccer player, becomes the second female to score in a Division I game in NCAA history. Katie Hnida kicked a pair of extra points for New Mexico in 2003.

2015 — David Ortiz homers twice to become the 27th player in major league history to reach 500 homers, and Boston beats Tampa Bay 10-4.

2018 — Breanna Stewart leads the Seattle Storm to their third WNBA title, scoring 30 points in a 98-82 victory over the Washington Mystics in Game 3 of the best-of-five series.

2020 — Naomi Osaka of Japan wins her second US Open title beating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Compiled by the Associated Press

And finally

The Dodgers decided to celebrate Halloween a little early before jetting to Arizona. Check out their costumes (or lack thereof) here.

Until next time...

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