COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Justin Herbert finally made it to the playoffs in his third year with the Los Angeles Chargers, only to see the season end again in excruciating fashion.
Despite going 10-7 in the regular season, the Chargers will stew after blowing the third-largest lead in postseason history. The Bolts had a 27-0 second-quarter lead over Jacksonville in last Saturday’s AFC wild-card round game, only to collapse in the second half and fall to the Jaguars 31-30.
“I think we’ve got a lot better as a team. We fell short in the playoffs,” Herbert said Sunday after the Chargers had their final team meeting. “I’ll take a couple of weeks to get my body right, but next year is already on my mind, and we’ll do everything we can to be the best team we can be next year.”
Since entering the league as the sixth overall pick in the 2020 draft, Herbert is second in completions, third in passing yards, and fifth in combined touchdowns.
Yet, the Chargers are 25-25, including the playoffs, with him as their starting quarterback.
While Herbert has shown he can be one of the league’s top quarterbacks, owner Dean Spanos will determine if the Chargers have the right coach and general manager to get Herbert and the rest of the roster to the next level.
Coach Brandon Staley has taken criticism during his two years in charge, but that has increased over the past two weeks, especially after wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a season-ending back injury in the meaningless regular-season finale at Denver.
The Chargers have yet to win a division title during Tom Telesco’s 10 seasons as general manager and have only been to the playoffs three times in his tenure. Telesco, who said before the start of the season that the true measuring stick of a GM is wins and losses, has an 81-86 record. The Bolts’ .485 winning percentage since 2013 is 19th.
“We believe in the front office 100%. We’ve got the right pieces. We just have to put them together and execute better,” Herbert said.
If the Staley/Telesco partnership makes it to a third season, the most significant change to the coaching staff could be at offensive coordinator. Joe Lombardi has been second guessed throughout the season, especially regarding his decisions in the second half of games.
The Chargers were ranked ninth in total offense, but had the third-worst rushing attack in the league. A significant reason for that was the team not sticking with the run game. Los Angeles had the NFL’s second-biggest discrepancy between passing and running plays (65% pass to 35% run).
The most-telling stat, though, might be the Chargers’ struggles in the third quarter. They were outscored 103-52 in the quarter, including the playoffs, and reached the end zone only once in the final 13 games.
ROLLERCOASTER SEASON FOR HERBERT
Herbert was second in the league in completions (477) and passing yards (4,739) this season, but this was also a season when he dealt with his most adversity.
Herbert suffered fractured rib cartilage in a Week 2 road loss at Kansas City, lost left tackle Rashawn Slater to a biceps injury in Week 3, and had two games where both Mike Williams and Keenan Allen did not play. Allen missed seven of the first nine games because of a hamstring injury, while Williams was sidelined for five, including four because of an ankle injury.
“It was definitely a tough year, but I think adversity is a good teacher for us,” said Herbert, who has the most passing yards, completions and touchdowns in NFL history for a player in his first three seasons.
The Chargers will likely start talks with Herbert’s agent about a long-term extension during the offseason. Because he made the Pro Bowl last year, Herbert’s fifth-year option will be the franchise transition tag. Those figures will be announced early in March, but early projections are at least $30.4 million.
The Chargers might also wait to see if Cincinnati signs Joe Burrow to an extension this year, which would set the market for Herbert, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts.
The Chargers spent $218 million last offseason, most of it devoted to upgrading a defense ranked 23rd in 2021.
Yet, for all the attention paid to the defense, it was still one of the team’s weaknesses. The unit was ranked 20th in total defense, 21st in points allowed per game and the fifth worst against the run.
Los Angeles’ key moves were signing cornerback J.C. Jackson and acquiring linebacker Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears.
Jackson struggled in four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 23 against Seattle. Mack was a bright spot with eight sacks and made the Pro Bowl.
The Chargers have a strong core with Mack, linebacker Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James, but they need to shore up a run defense prone to giving up big plays. Los Angeles had 11 opposing running backs go for at least 100 yards on it this season, a franchise record.
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