The Los Angeles Chargers didn’t beat the Chiefs on Sunday but they nearly did and if Justin Herbert can play this well in both his first NFL start against Kansas City — and ever — then it’s worth be excited about nothing less than next week’s game against the Panthers.
The Chargers held the Chiefs to nine points through three quarters and had the lead until the final moments of regulation, but gave Kansas City at least two too many chances and lost 23-20 on a 58-yard field goal by Harrison Butker.
The loss dropped the Chargers to 1-1 through two games but there are no losers in this column. Only some team members with something to think about.
20 of 31, 304 yards, one touchdown, one interception, two sacks, four carries for 18 yards, one touchdown
Ahead of schedule, Herbert got the start against a defense still fresh off of a championship and in many cases he looked impressive against the Chiefs regardless of experience. The fact that Herbert was making his NFL debut is encouraging.
Justin Herbert put this right on Keenan Allen perfectly with the pass rush on him. Rookie is impressive. pic.twitter.com/5swZPdjyPM— Bobby Football (@RobPaulNFL) September 20, 2020
A good first start is not necessarily indicative of a certain type of career. In fact, many of the best first starts in league history were by quarterbacks who didn’t or haven’t gone on to greatness: Marcus Mariota, Todd Bouman, Eric Hipple, Tony Banks, Marc Bulger, Anthony Dilweg, Matt Flynn, John Fourcade, Josh Freeman, Nick Mullens (now starting again for the 49ers as of next week), Matt McGloin Todd Marinovich and Todd Philcox among them.
However, you’ll also find names like Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Kurt Warner and Drew Brees.
To play well in these conditions as a rookie, with no preseason, behind Tyrod Taylor the entire offseason and against the Chiefs, Herbert can draw confidence from the fact that his NFL career seems to be off to similar beginnings as his successful college career.
Kenneth Murray’s tip
Another rookie who is responsible for the team’s encouraging start to the season, Murray led the defense with 10 tackles (four solo) and a valuable pass deflection late in the fourth quarter that helped the Chargers at least force Kansas City to play for overtime.
Clearly the unusual offseason hasn’t slowed down the optimistic progress of Murray, who has 18 tackles through his first two games.
Last week I noted Allen in the “something to think about” category only because the Chargers needed to find ways to get him the ball again and allow him to be back among the NFL’s yardage leaders. On Sunday, Allen’s 96 yards ranked as the second-most he’s had in the last 15 games.
Herbert could be the exact change that Allen needed to see.
Justin Herbert for Ekeler and Keenan Allen's fantasy value pic.twitter.com/KQxUO4CrGj— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) September 20, 2020
Through two weeks, Ekeler has responded to skeptics of his ability to handle a lot of rushing attempts with 45 carries and 177 yards so far this season. He had 16 attempts for 93 yards and four catches for 55 yards against the Chiefs.
#Chargers RB Austin Ekeler has 117 scrimmage yards— ⚡️ChargersLegion⚡️ (@ChargersLegion) September 20, 2020
...in the first half
Gus Bradley’s defense - overall
They weren’t perfect but you’d have to be Jared Leto’s Joker to call this a bad day for the Chargers defense. For most of the game they were forcing Patrick Mahomes into one of his worst career days and they held Kansas City to 20 points in regulation; only one other team has held the Chiefs to 20 or fewer points in the last two years.
Holding Kansas City to 23 points in 68 minutes might be the best defensive achievement against the Chiefs since Mahomes became the starter.
Sammy Watkins had one catch on three targets for 11 yards. Demarcus Robinson had three catches for 28 yards. Tyreek Hill only caught five of 11 targets. Travis Kelce only got 90 yards on 14 targets. Mecole Hardman was held to two catches and 30 yards. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had 38 rushing yards on 10 carries a week after leading the league.
How could Sunday’s game be discouraging for the Chargers knowing that Herbert and the defense played so well against the Chiefs? At most there are some things to think about.
Something to think about
Gus Bradley’s defense on 3rd and 20
At some point you do have to concede that Mahomes is a top-two player in football and Harrison Butker absolutely hammered all four of his kicks of 53+ through the uprights and you can’t be perfect on every play. That’s what makes Kansas City so dangerous: they have so much to offer. To stop them 50, 60 times in a game is too much to handle.
However, there were moments where we clearly saw that Bradley’s defense couldn’t handle Mahomes.
The Chargers lost Derwin James and Drue Tranquill and are starting a rookie in a high pressure role at linebacker and mistakes are going to happen against Mahomes and Tyreek Hill and this abundantly talented offense.
Something to think about is what lapses did allow Mahomes to go 11-of-14 for 155 yards in the fourth quarter. LA was bailed out more than once on penalties by Kansas City and yet that wasn’t enough to keep the Chargers in the lead when it mattered.
Anthony Lynn on taking chances
Tony Romo’s prowess for good opinions and channeling the future continued on Sunday when he calmly predicted that Harrison Butker would make the field goal he needed to make, even from 58 yards out. Twice.
But Romo’s coaching decision (something we seem bound to see come to fruition before too long if he gets the desire to return to the sidelines) for Anthony Lynn would have been to go for it on fourth-and-one on their own side of the field in overtime.
Chargers played better but played not to lose in overtime. This is the proper emotion. https://t.co/46xWBtGc0Q— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) September 21, 2020
Knowing that the Chiefs are the Chiefs and that a punt meant that Kansas City only need a field goal a field goal a field goal, Romo felt that Lynn should take his chances with the offense. Even if we know that LA’s defense is probably superior right now and that was on display this Sunday.
Lynn’s risk to give the ball back to Mahomes nearly paid off but as we saw, the Chiefs didn’t need to go as deep into LA’s territory as most teams would have in order to get the win.
The Chargers as an organization have shifted many philosophies and Tom Telesco has gone out of his boundaries to build the team we see today. Will Lynn think about being more aggressive this season, especially in big moments of big games?
It was inevitable but maybe not supposed to happen this soon, at least from Taylor’s point of view. Ruled out just before game time, Taylor’s “something to think about” will probably be along the lines of considering the internal and external push people will have to keep Herbert as the starter.
Chargers’ QB Tyrod Taylor hurt his chest after pregame warmups today, right before kickoff. His return today is questionable. https://t.co/NARpmIq8Rm— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 20, 2020
Lynn says that Tyrod Taylor remains the starter when he’s healthy. How much longer he says that is a burning wick that just got a lot shorter.
It’s nothing to panic over, but Kelley and the Chargers coaches have something to think about with regards to his production on Sunday: 23 carries, 64 yards and not a single run longer than seven yards.
It’s the second game of his career and LA is counting on him to carry the load because of Justin Jackson’s current injury and if Jackson continues to miss time, that’ll be an area to search for more success from in the future.