Justin Herbert made the decision to play Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars after fracturing his rib cartilage in Week 2.
Then he lost his blindside protection in the third quarter when Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater left the game with a bicep injury. So why – with his Los Angeles Chargers desperately trailing in a 38-10 loss – was the franchise quarterback still on the court late in the game?
It’s a question that surfaced in the fourth quarter as Herbert continued to play as the Jaguars held a 31-10, 38-10 lead. Head coach Brandon Staley explained the decision when asked about it at his post-match press conference. He left the decision to Herbert.
“He wanted to be out there with his teammates,” Staley said. “He felt good and he wanted to finish the game. He wanted to energize our group.
“And we were going to protect him there at the end with really solid protection – as best we could. But it was more for him to want to finish off his guys.”
Again, the Chargers were playing with backup left tackle Storm Norton, who almost immediately allowed pressure on Herbert entering the game and finished with a pair of holding penalties. The protection was only going to be so “sound”. Plus, it’s the coach’s job to make that kind of call specifically because NFL quarterbacks are generally predisposed to gutting him despite the risk — especially that of Herbert’s caliber.
Let Herbert explain.
“I just didn’t want to leave the team,” Herbert said. “Obviously a tough day for us. But I didn’t want to get out. I felt like we were getting the ball out quickly. I didn’t want to leave my team.
“Sometimes you have to put 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 leave my team. .”
He added that he would not have started on Sunday had he not been assured by team medical staff that he would be safe.
From a risk-reward perspective, the call was simple. Get Herbert out of the game. The advantage 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’s just the decision we made,” Staley asked when pressed to make that decision. “It was about finishing the game as a team. And it was important for us that we did that.”
Fortunately for Herbert and the Chargers, no further damage was done. Herbert finished the match taking a single sack. The result doesn’t mean Staley made the right call.
Staley is one of the game’s brightest young coaching stars who has made a name for himself making unorthodox, but often correct – according to analysis – decisions in high leverage situations. Sunday’s call to keep Herbert in the game was not one of those decisions.