Chargers look sluggish as Jaguars roll, can’t blame Justin Herbert’s loss

For a moment Sunday, the Chargers looked ready to rally behind their injured Pro Bowl quarterback.

Justin Herbert missed a 54-yard strike to Jalen Guyton to spark a second-half drive against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The big play was a stark contrast to a sluggish first half that saw the Chargers fall behind, 16-7 as Herbert played with a broken rib cartilage. But reality soon hit. Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater left with a biceps injury two plays later. The possession bogged down and ended with a field goal. And the Jaguars ran away with the game from there en route to a 38-10 victory.

At the end, Herbert piled up garbage-time stats and some wondered why the quarterback was still injured in the game.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, left, catches a hit by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen during the second half of an NFL football game in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

At a glance, it was a great result for a Chargers team armed with Super Bowl hopes and playing at home against a Jaguars team that finished 2021 with the NFL’s worst record. But maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Those Jaguars have obviously improved a lot. Meanwhile, the Chargers are playing with a mountain of injury woes that go beyond their hobbled quarterback and threaten to derail their season.

They started Sunday without Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen and cornerback JC Jackson, who were both sidelined with injuries. Before Slater left the game, Pro Bowl pass rusher Joey Bosa was ruled out with a groin injury in the first half. It’s a big concern for a team trying to compete in a stacked AFC.

But make no mistake. There is a risk that Herbert’s injury will go away and remain a significant problem of its own. The big-armed Pro Bowler himself looked limited in an ineffective first half that saw him average 5.9 yards per attempt, well below his career average of 7.6. The spectacular understated plays that are the hallmark of his game were nowhere to be found.

His 54-yard pass in the third quarter provided hope that was quickly extinguished as the Chargers trailed by just three points after halftime. He finished the game completing 25 of 45 passes for 297 yards with a touchdown and an interception — far from the kind of effort to inspire an MVP campaign.

Slater’s absence cannot be ignored. Substitute Storm Norton took his place, and Herbert was pressed almost immediately from the blind side. Norton was flagged twice for holding as he repeatedly struggled with Jacksonville’s pass rush.

Slater was reportedly in a sling after the match. Any extended absence on top of Herbert’s extended rib injury will spell trouble for the Chargers offense. Especially if Allen remains sidelined with the hamstring injury suffered in Week 1.

And that’s before addressing the defensive woes. Bosa is the Chargers best pass rusher. Jackson is their best cover man. It will be tough for them to compete as long as their best players are under recreation.

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