Culver City Observer -

By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

Herbert Leads Chargers to Victory

 

December 17, 2020

Chargers

Chargers defense, from left to right, Linval Joseph(93), Justin Jones (93), Uchenna Nwosu (42), Kenneth Murray (56), and Jerry Tillery (99) make a defensive stop against New England a few weeks ago.

It has been a while since Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert engineered a game winning drive in a football game. In fact, the last time was in college with Oregon, when Herbert scored on a thrilling 30-yard fourth quarter touchdown run to give the Oregon Ducks a 28-27 win over the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2020 Rose Bowl, Herbert's last collegiate football game, in a game played on New Year's Day.

Herbert had previously come close with the Chargers, but a missed field goal against the Saints and a dropped pass against the Raiders had kept him from completing a game winning drive. The rookie quarterback finally completed his first game winning drive, leading the Chargers on a six play, 49-yard drive in the final 30 seconds of the game to propel the Chargers to a 20-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Sunday.

Starting at their own 26, Herbert completed key passes of 15 yards to tight end Hunter Henry on a third-and-2 play to the Chargers' 49 and then he found wide receiver Tyron Johnson for 25 yards down to the Falcons 26, leading to kicker Michael Badgley's game winning 43-yard field goal.

Charger head coach Anthony Lynn was ecstatic about Herbert's performance on the winning drive: "I'll tell you that was a hell of a last drive by a young quarterback," said Lynn after the game. Considering that both starting wide receivers were out, along with the right side of the offensive line, it was a heck of an accomplishment for the young quarterback.

The victory improved the Chargers record for the season to 4-9 and was the third win of the season at home. The Falcons also have a 4-9 record after the disappointing loss. Both the Chargers and the Falcons have struggled to finish games this season and both teams have blown double digit leads this season, on multiple occasions.

In this game, both teams looked determined to give the other team the victory. The score was tied at 17-17 late in the game. In the last four minutes of the football game, there were three interceptions thrown, two by Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan and one by Herbert. Both of Ryan's interceptions occurred with the Falcons in Chargers territory.

Herbert continues to march on to an amazing rookie season at quarterback. He is averaging 288.9 yards per game, which is fourth in the NFL. He has 3,467 yards passing, with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has completed 66.3% of his passes. Herbert needs three more touchdown passes to set a rookie record for touchdown passes and with 331 completions, just 49 completions to set a rookie record for completions in a season. With three games to go, he should set both of those records.

Herbert did not show this kind of passing talent at Oregon, but as ESPN's Louis Riddick said at the Senior Bowl, "When he got around a pro-style attack that was much more varied, he looked like, 'Whoa, where has this been?' Maybe Oregon did him an injustice with its offensive system." It also certainly does not hurt to have wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Austin Ekeler in the lineup.

Herbert completed 36 of 44 passes for 243 yards against the Falcons, with half the passes caught by either Allen or Ekeler. Both caught nine each. On the first Charger offensive drive of the game, the Chargers had the ball on the Falcon ten-yard line. Allen was lined up in the slot and ran a sideline route in the endzone to the right pylon where Herbert, throwing off his back foot, hit Allen with a perfect pass for the touchdown. It was beautiful route and an accurate pass that could only be caught by Allen.

That culminated a 15-play, 83-yard drive on offense that took nine minutes, 33 seconds and gave the Chargers an early 7-0 lead. Allen ended up with nine catches for 52 yards and passed Antonio Brown with the most receptions in a player's first 100 games. The eighth-year receiver has 623 receptions in 99 games. Brown had 622 receptions in 99 games. Ekeler did not score in the game, but he had 146 yards in total offense, with nine receptions for 67 yards and 15 carries for 79 yards rushing.

The Falcons responded on their next possession, with an unusual touchdown. Wide receiver Russell Gage was lined up in the wildcat formation and on a third-and-one, took one step forward as if he were going to run the ball and instead threw a perfect 39-yard pass for a touchdown to wide receiver Calvin Ridley, tying the score at 7-7 after a Younghoe Koo extra point.

It had to be one of the best passes ever thrown by a wide receiver and as it turns out, Gage played quarterback at Redemptorist high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ryan added a nine-yard touchdown pass to Laquon Treadwell with just under five minutes to go in the second quarter, giving the Falcons a 17-10 lead.

The Chargers never seem to be without a perplexing coaching decision these days and Sunday's game with the Falcons was no exception to this disturbing pattern. Following the Falcons touchdown to take a 17-10 lead, the Chargers drove 60 yards to the Falcons eight-yard line. With a third-and-one from the eight-yard line, with 22 seconds left, the Chargers used their third and final timeout.

For some unknown reason, the Chargers came out of the timeout and decided to run the ball, did not get the first down, and then tried to rush the field goal unit on for the field goal attempt on fourth down. The offense seemed confused, hesitated, and then trotted off the field. The field goal unit could not get on the field in time before the clock ran out. A passing play seemed like the only option without timeouts, yet the Chargers decided to run up the middle.

After the game, Coach Lynn attempted to explain what happened, stating that, "You cannot run the ball in that situation. You just can't. We try to be aggressive, but you can't run the ball in that situation and that right there is an area where we've got to improve as a coaching staff, communication-wise, and we will, but you cannot run the ball there."

Maybe a veteran quarterback just changes the call to a pass play. It just does not make the coaching staff look good and it cost the Chargers at least three points. The Chargers did put together a third quarter touchdown drive, ending in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to wide receiver Tyron Johnson. That tied the score at 17 apiece and it remained that way until the game winning drive and game winning field goal.

Chargers

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler looks for running room.

The Chargers defensively had a nice day with three interceptions in the second half and held a potent Falcon offense to just 17 points. They will need more of that when they travel to Las Vegas for a Thursday Night game with the Raiders. The Raiders are 7-6 and struggling on defense. They have allowed 391 points in 13 games, with only the New York Jets at 393 points allowed and the Dallas Cowboys at 400 points allowed worse than the Raiders.

The game will start at 5:20 PM on December 17th and will be televised on Fox. It should be a close game between the two bitter rivals and could be decided on the last drive of the game. Raider quarterback Derek Carr has 23 game winning drives in his career, including three against the Chargers. With almost every Charger game coming down to the wire, it will not be a surprise if Herbert has a shot at a second game winning drive in less than a week.

 

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