Justin Herbert was a game-time decision to play Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars after breaking rib cartilage in Week 2.
Then he lost his blindside defense in the third quarter when Pro Bowl tackle Rashawn Slater left the game with a biceps injury. So why – when the hopeful Los Angeles Chargers trailed in a 38-10 loss – was the franchise quarterback still on the field late in the game?
It’s an issue that became apparent in the fourth quarter as Herbert continued to play as the Jaguars led 31-10 and 38-10. Head coach Brandon Staley explained the decision when asked in his postgame news conference. He left the decision up 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 give some energy to our group.
“And we were going to protect him there at the end with sound defense – as best we could. But it was more about him trying to finish with his guys.”
Again, the Chargers were playing left back tackle Storm Morton, who almost immediately allowed pressure on Herbert to enter the game and ended up with a pair of holding penalties. Defense was going to be just so “sound.” Also, it’s the coach’s job to make this kind of decision specifically because NFL quarterbacks generally tend to make it despite the risk — especially one of Herbert’s caliber.
Let Herbert explain.
“I didn’t want to quit the team,” said Herbert. “Obviously it was a very difficult day for us. But I didn’t want to go out. I felt we were getting the ball out quickly. I didn’t want to give up on my team.
“Sometimes you have to put your own goals behind the team, and I think that’s the most important thing. I felt safe out there. And I didn’t want to give up on my team.”
He added that he would not have started on Sunday if the team’s medical staff had not confirmed that he would be safe.
From a risk-reward perspective, the call was simple. Take Herbert out of the game. The benefit of keeping him in the game was reducing a double-digit deficit to a smaller double-digit deficit. The downside was constant physical punishment on an already injured franchise quarterback who didn’t have his best player on the field.
“That was just the decision we made,” Staley asked when pressed about the decision. “It was up to us to finish the game as a team. And it was important for us that we did it.”
Thanks to Herbert and the Chargers, no further damage was done. Herbert finished the game with one sack. The result doesn’t mean Staley made the right call.
Staley is one of the game’s brightest young coaching stars who has built his reputation by making unorthodox, but often analytically correct, decisions in high-leverage situations. Sunday’s call to keep Herbert in the game was not one of those decisions.