When it comes to Justin Herbert, I don’t want to get bogged down in the conversation of “best starts to a quarterback’s career” and comparing players who were separated by many years and in wildly different situations and circumstances. What’s easier to claim is that few, if any, quarterbacks have been robbed of a first win like Herbert has through four starts.
On Monday night, Herbert became the first quarterback to lose his first four starts while posting a passer rating of at least 80+ in each contest when the Chargers lost to the Saints 30-27 in overtime.
Herbert’s final stat line: 20 of 34, 264 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
The 1st rookie in NFL history to throw 4 touchdowns on #MNF?— NFL (@NFL) October 13, 2020
Justin Herbert. #BoltUp pic.twitter.com/gzcHCwJnU0
Herbert now has seven touchdown passes over the last two games, both close losses to quarterbacks who have been compared against each other in another popular debate: “Best quarterback of all-time.”
The Chargers have scored 94 points and allowed 112 in Herbert’s four starts.
In Week 2, Herbert led the Chargers to a 17-6 lead against the Chiefs and put LA back up 20-17 late in the fourth quarter by going from his own 13 to the Kansas City 4. He had first and goal from the 4 but two Joshua Kelley runs gained a total of zero yards and they settled for a field goal. The defense allowed a 21-yard run to Patrick Mahomes on 3rd and 20 on KC’s last drive of regulation. A Herbert pass to Mike Williams was one yard shy of keeping the opening drive alive and they punted it back to Mahomes. The Chiefs needed to convert a fourth down and then later a 58-yard field goal in overtime in order to win.
In Week 3, Herbert led a 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter with four third down conversions to cut the Panthers lead to 21-16. With only 1:46 on the clock, Herbert drove the Chargers from their own 1 to the Carolina 28 and again gave his team an opportunity to win.
In Week 4, Herbert helped LA build a 24-7 lead over the Buccaneers, then threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Guyton at the end of the third quarter to re-take the advantage from Tom Brady, 31-28. The Chargers defense could not hold and a fumble by Kelley at the end of the first half gave free points back to Tampa Bay. In the fourth quarter, a Herbert pass to Kelley only picked up eight yards on 3rd and 9 and they punted it back at a crucial time.
On Monday night, Herbert led the Chargers to an 80-yard touchdown drive on LA’s second series, only to see Michael Badgley missed the PAT. Two drives later, Herbert went on a 75-yard touchdown drive before a Nasir Adderley interception led to a 20-3 Chargers lead. Later tied 20-20 in the fourth quarter, Herbert threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Williams to re-take the lead 27-20. But then the defense couldn’t hold New Orleans out of the end zone when they needed to and Badgley missed a 50-yard field goal that would have given Herbert his first win in the NFL.
The Saints and Chargers went to overtime and during this round, LA’s defense was able to hold New Orleans to a field goal. Herbert threw a dangerous pass to K.J. Hill that was also a little behind Hill, but one that could have been caught. He then threw a completed pass to Williams and for the third time in four games, a player was one yard shy on a key play.
Number of career starts it took before defense gave up 30+ points in back to back games:— Classy Stats (@ClassyStats) October 13, 2020
Justin Herbert: 4
Peyton Manning: 7
Aaron Rodgers: 12
Patrick Mahomes: 13
Drew Brees: 26
Dan Marino: 37
Tom Brady: 295
Herbert plays in 2020, which means that the bar for greatness when it come to passing statistics has been raised considerably. Passer rating is a rudimentary statistic, but many “advanced stats” are far less revealing than they claim to be. Let me use this rudimentary statistic as a measuring stick anyhow.
Prior to Monday night, Herbert was one of nine quarterbacks to lose three of his first four starts while posting a passer rating above 80. Herbert’s lowest passer rating this season is 88, which is well below average for the modern era. That was against Carolina and fitting to the fact that LA had to fight to make the score and game close at the end, probably Herbert’s worst all around start to open his career. Which is encouraging because he went 35 of 49 with 330 yards and was only sacked two times.
Now Herbert is the first quarterback to lose his first four career starts while posting a passer rating above 80 in each game. He is 0-4 with these numbers:
97 of 141, 68.8-percent, 1,195 yards, nine touchdowns, three interceptions, 8.5 Y/A, 107.1 rating, 71.6 QBR, nine sacks, one rushing touchdown
We don’t need to compare it to every rookie QB ever through four games or veterans of a different season. Look how good Herbert is compared to the legendary player he watched win on Monday. Drew Brees’ stat line after five games this season:
125 of 176, 71-percent, 1,331 yards, nine touchdowns, three interceptions, 7.6 YA, 102.7 rating, 77.7 QBR, seven sacks
Thirteen quarterbacks have a passer rating over 100 and only Herbert, Deshaun Watson (100.5 rating, 1-4 record) have losing records among them. Four of the top five QBs in rating are undefeated and six of the top eight are 4-1 or better, Herbert and 3-2 Derek Carr as the exceptions.
The Chargers were thought to be a quarterback away from helping the defense get to the playoffs and instead it seems LA can’t get the defense, the coaching or the special teams out of the way of the talented, determined and clutch play of the quarterback.
You want to hear how Herbert stacks up with other young quarterbacks in history? It’s too difficult to assess today’s offensive play in the league as compared to previous generations of the game, but in general I think it is fair to say that Herbert has been exceptional and you don’t need stats to prove it. You want to hear some words of encouragement after a 1-4 start for the Chargers?
Two years ago, the Indianapolis Colts started the season 1-5 despite Andrew Luck throwing 16 touchdowns in those first six games and they were close to being at least 3-3. If you’ll recall, Luck’s arm was so weak at that point that Indianapolis actually had Jacoby Brissett come in for a hail mary attempt against the Eagles. But the Colts defense had allowed 34, 9, 20, 37, 38 and 42 points in those six games.
In the final 10 games of 2018, Indianapolis never allowed more than 28 points and they held four of their opponents to 10 points or less. The Colts went 9-1 in those games and made the playoffs, beating the Houston Texans in the wild card round.
The Chargers have a productive quarterback and his arm is also strong and ready to go, clearly. LA has a defense that is meant to be better than it has been. They also have a post-bye week schedule of the Jaguars, Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins, and Jets to begin their remaining slate. That’s different than facing Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Drew Brees in three of your first four starts and should provide Herbert and the Chargers with better opportunities to get his first victory.
Not that he already hasn’t done everything asked of him to have gotten a win by now.