Justin Herbert showed during his first three years that he could deliver a clutch drive to either tie or win the game for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Like many things gone awry in a disappointing season for the Chargers, Herbert hasn’t been able to lead the offense to a late score when needed.
That was on display again in Sunday night’s 20-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Chargers trailed 13-10 in the fourth quarter and had a chance to possibly send it into overtime after Justin Tucker missed a 44-yard field goal attempt with 2:57 remaining.
Herbert and the offense took over at their own 34. They drove to the Ravens 46-yard line at the 2-minute warning, but Herbert had three straight incomplete passes and they turned it over on downs. On fourth-and-6, Herbert was pressured in the pocket and called for intentional grounding when he tried to throw it away.
“I could have changed the protection. In hindsight, I would have loved to have blocked up with seven guys and get everyone in there and blocking. I thought I had time, it was a 6-yard route,” Herbert said about the play. “I have to do a better job of creating space and getting the ball out.”
Baltimore took over and put it out of reach on rookie Zay Flowers’ 37-yard touchdown on an end-around.
Herbert led 10 tying or winning drives in his first three seasons when he got the ball in overtime or with less than 3 minutes remaining in regulation. He had an 85.9 passer rating with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions, and was sacked only four times.
This season, Herbert is 0 for 5 in the same situation with a passer rating of 40.1. He was been picked off twice and sacked seven times.
“It’s up to us, as an offense, to go out there and execute and perform in those two-minute drills. We haven’t done that, and that’s on us,” he said.
The Chargers defense, which is ranked last in the league, has been maligned most of the season, but the offense had some major struggles the past two games. Receivers and running backs dropped four passes in last weekend’s 23-20 loss at Green Bay, and the offense had four turnovers against the Ravens.
Los Angeles came into the game tied for the least turnovers in the league.
“When you don’t knock them down, everyone’s going to be on you. That’s part of the job. But there’s no one that we would rather have with the ball in their hands late in the game than Justin Herbert,” coach Brandon Staley said.
Los Angeles (4-7) has dropped three straight games. It is the fourth time in 11 seasons with Tom Telesco as the general manager that it has had four or fewer wins through the first 11 games.
However, the defense having one of its best games of the season against one of the AFC’s top contenders does provide some glimmer of hope going into next weekend’s trip to New England.
“We’re very frustrated, but I mean, it’s the NFL,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “They were the No. 1 team and we gave them a dogfight. That’s not an excuse or anything that I’m proud of or anything. It just shows you how close the league is.”
Third-down defense. The Chargers are tied for sixth, limiting teams to a 35.2% conversion rate after Baltimore was 3 of 14. Over the past four games, opposing offenses are just 18 of 57 on third down.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The running game. Herbert was the team’s leading rusher for the second straight week, which shows how dire things have become. Since their league-high 233 yards in the opener against Miami, the Chargers are averaging 91 yards in the past 10 games, the sixth-worst average in the league.
Allen has 10 or more receptions in three straight games for the third time in his 11-year career. Allen had 14 catches for 106 yards and had multiple receptions on five different routes for the second time this season. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the rest of the league has combined for two such games.
CB Michael Davis. After playing in 82.9% of the Chargers’ defensive plays the first 10 games, the seventh-year pro was benched for the Ravens’ game after allowing six touchdowns on the season. Davis’ replacement, Deane Leonard, also struggled. Leonard gave up eight receptions on the 10 times he was targeted in coverage, including Flowers’ touchdown in the second quarter.
WR Quentin Johnston did not play in the second half due to rib issues.
13 — Sacks by Khalil Mack, which is tied for second in the league. Mack has registered a season with at least 12 sacks with three different teams (Raiders, Bears, Chargers), joining Hall of Famer Kevin Greene (Rams, Steelers, Panthers) as the only players to do that since individual sacks became an official NFL statistic in 1982.
The Chargers have dropped six straight and nine of their last 10 meetings against New England, including two playoff games.
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