Justin Herbert was a game-time decision to play Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars after fracturing costal cartilage in Week 2.
He then lost his blindside protection in the third quarter when the Pro Bowl left the tackle. Rashawn Slater left the competition with a biceps injury. So why—when his Los Angeles Chargers trailed hopelessly behind in a 38-10 loss—was the franchise quarterback still on the field late in the game?
It’s a question that popped up in the fourth quarter as Herbert continued to play while the Jaguars had a 31-10 and 38-10 lead. Head coach Brandon Staley explained the decision when asked about it during his post-game press conference. He left the decision to Herbert.
“He wanted to be there with his teammates,” Staley said. “He felt good and wanted to finish the game. He wanted to give our group some energy.
“And we would protect him there at the end with really good protection – as best we could. But it was more about him wanting to end up with his boys.”
Once again, the Chargers played with backup left tackle Storm Norton, who almost immediately pressured Herbert into the game and ended with a pair of holding penalties. Protection would only be so ‘healthy’. It’s also the coach’s job to make these kinds of decisions, especially since NFL quarterbacks are generally inclined to stamp it out despite the risk — especially one of Herbert’s caliber.
Let Herbert explain.
“I just didn’t want to stop with the team,” Herbert said. “Obviously it was a tough day for us. But I didn’t want to go out. I felt like we got the ball out quickly. I didn’t want to stop with my team.”
“Sometimes you have to set your own goals behind the team, and I think that’s the most important thing. I felt like I was safe there. And I didn’t want to stop on my team.”
He added that he would not have started on Sunday if he had not been assured by the team’s medical staff that he would be safe.
Sep 25, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley watches the first half game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
From a risk and reward perspective, the call was simple. Take Herbert out of the game. The benefit of keeping him in the game was reducing a double-digit deficit to a smaller double-digit deficit. The downside was the continued physical punishment of an already injured franchise quarterback who didn’t have his best lineman on the field.
“That was just the decision we made,” Staley asked when he was pressed for the decision. “It was about finishing the game as a team. And it was important to us that we did it.”
Fortunately for Herbert and the Chargers, no further damage was done. Herbert finished the game with only one sack. The result doesn’t mean Staley made the right decision.
Staley is one of the game’s brightest young coaching stars who has earned his reputation for making unorthodox, but often correct – according to analysis – decisions in highly leveraged situations. Sunday’s call to keep Herbert in the game was not one of those decisions.