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Justin Herbert’s big first half helps Chargers fend off Jets 34-28

Bolts handle easiest test of the year, but keep it too close for comfort.

New York Jets v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A win is a win.

If you ask Anthony Lynn, he’ll tell you that more teams lose in the NFL than win, and then he’ll tell you every game in the NFL is a tough game. None are given.

But I just can’t get behind that concept when it comes to facing an 0-9 New York Jets team that has the league’s worst offense by a mile.

Yet, the Chargers were forced to close out another sweaty one-score game, eventually winning 34-28 after having to take an intentional safety to keep themselves from possibly having their punt blocked while they were deep within their own territory with only eight seconds left.

Again, a win is a big deal whenever you get one, but there was still plenty of bad wrapped up in a game that was supposed to be the closest thing to a “gimme” as one could expect in 2020.

In the beginning, this one started out as bad as it did last week. On the Chargers’ first possession, defensive lineman Trent Murphy blocked a Ty Long punt to set the Jets up deep within LA’s territory. After a few carries by the veteran Frank Gore, the Jets capitalized on the special teams gaffe with a five-yard touchdown run by rookie La’Mical Perine. Kicker Sam Ficken missed the extra point point and the Jets held an early 6-0 lead.

On the Chargers’ ensuing drive, Herbert directed the offense to an 11-play, 74-yard drive that looked promising. On that 11th play, Keenan Allen caught a pass and turned up the field but got hit low and high at the same time, forcing the ball out of his hands before he could be called down and the Jets recovered at their one-yard line.

Before the frustration could truly set in for the Bolts’ offense, slot corner Tevaughn Campbell stepped in front of a Joe Flacco pass to the flat and skipped the lone yard into the end zone to get them on the board with a pick-six.

After forcing the Jets into a three-and-out on their next drive, the Chargers increased their lead with a 39-yard catch-and-run by Mike Williams who corralled a pass on a deep in route before shaking off a pair of would-be tacklers and racing into the end zone for a 14-6 lead.

Hunter Henry caught his third touchdown of the season — also his second in as many games — on the offense’s next drive, making the Jets pay following another three-and-out on their prior drive.

To cap off an electric first half where Herbert through for 277 yards and two scores, Michael Badgley converted his first of two field goals to make things 24-6 at the half.

Like previous games, the worst in the Chargers came out after the break.

The Jets opened up the second half with a seven-yard, 74-yard drive that was capped off with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman who outran Casey Hayward up the middle of the field. Just like that, the pressure was already on with the lead now just 11 points.

The Chargers and Jets would go on to trade touchdowns over the next two drives, first with Keenan Allen hauling in a bullet from Herbert for his sixth score of the season, followed by a one-yard rush by the timeless Gore. Ficken would miss the PAT again and the Chargers were holding on to a 31-19 lead with 22 seconds left in the quarter.

At this point, the Chargers hadn’t shown any signs of slowing down offensively. A 12 point lead should be fairly comfortable heading into the fourth quarter and there still wasn’t much cause for concern, but this is the Chargers we’re talking about.

The Bolts put together a lengthy 16-play, 70-yard drive that ate eight minutes and 40 seconds off the clock. With less than seven minutes to play, a touchdown would have surely secured a victory. However, faced with a fourth-and-one at the New York one-yard line, Anthony Lynn decided to kick the field goal instead of putting the final nail in the coffin of the Jets.

Again, with a lead of 15 points, a normal person would feel comfortable.

Not this fan base.

It just two minutes and 42 seconds for the Jets to score once again. This time, Flacco connected with tight end Chris Herndon in the back of the end zone for a six-yard score. The Jets kicked the extra point and it was all of a sudden a one-score contest at 34-26.

What followed was probably one of the most frustrating possessions for the Chargers this season. The only good part was that they threw the ball three-straight times to begin the drive. Unfortunately, those three passes — two of which were thrown behind the line of scrimmage — gained zero yards and the Bolts had to kick the ball right back to Flacco and the Jets with a solid three minutes left on the clock.

Thanks in part to a holding penalty against the Chargers on the punt, the Jets started just inside midfield at their 46-yard line. They managed to go 22 yards in five plays before the Bolts defense forced them into a fourth-and-nine at the LA 32. Flacco, having found success there earlier, targeted rookie Denzel Mims up the left sideline with Campbell in coverage. The ball ended up ricocheting off Campbells helmet and fell incomplete, despite there looking to be some serious contact between the two players. The Bolts likely got away with one with that one, but it was a huge stop, nonetheless.

With 1:46 left, the Chargers ran the ball three times, running the clock all the way down to eight seconds. Instead of risking another blocked punt, Long took the snap and darted straight back into the end zone and waited on the back line before a Jets player forced him to step out.

One second remained, but the Bolts did kicked the ball well inbounds on ensuing “punt-off” before tacking returner Braxton Berrios in bounds as the clock hit double zeroes.

The biggest positives on Sunday obviously came from the play of Herbert, who finished with a career-high 366 yards to go along with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also extended his personal NFL rookie record with his seventh game of throwing multiple touchdowns. No other player has more than five behind him.

Allen also set his a new personal-best mark with 16 receptions for 145 yards and another score.

The defense and special teams are still far from finished products and there’s likely no shot they can continue winning games in spite of both. Despite the return of Joey Bosa, the only Chargers sack came from linebacker Denzel Perryman.

Herbert cannot continue to throw for 300+ yards and 3+ touchdowns each week. Campbell’s takeaway was a great start this week, but everyone — and I mean everyone — can still do better.

The Bolts are now 3-7 on the year with the 7-3 Bills on tap for next week. After that, they get both the 4-6 Patriots and 3-7 Falcons at home before finishing their schedule with three-straight against the AFC West.