Chargers dumb not to sit injured Justin Herbert in blowout loss

If Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert thought he was being selfless by refusing to walk out of a game he probably shouldn’t have played in the first place and wasn’t sure he could start until after he got his warm-up on Sunday then he is wrong.

By continuing to play when the Chargers fell by three touchdowns behind the Jacksonville Jaguars late in the third quarter and were counted out 38-10 in the fourth quarter with just under five minutes left, Herbert was selfish.

By deciding to risk aggravating the fractured rib cartilage that limited his mobility and range of motion on Sunday — a problem that is likely to remain — the Chargers franchise cornerstone put his team’s season on the line without good reason.

The game was lost. The Chargers, increasingly exhausted by injuries on offense and defense and unable to build anything remotely resembling a running game, would lose to the Jaguars, who seemed to be recovering well from the short but destructive Urban Recover Meyer era.

Herbert didn’t need to be out there in the third quarter at SoFi Stadium. He certainly didn’t need to be out there in the fourth quarter.

“I just didn’t want to leave the team. Of course it was a hard day for us, but I didn’t want to get out,” said Herbert about staying until the extremely bitter end. “I had the feeling that we would get the ball out quickly. I didn’t want to leave my team.

“It’s what the team needs and sometimes you have to put your own goals and everything behind the team. I think that’s the most important thing. I felt safe out there and didn’t want to leave my team.”

An early exit would not have been quitting. It would have been wise. It would have given him some rest. It would have eliminated the risk of injury. It could have given backup Chase Daniel a few snaps, which could prove valuable if Herbert’s injury doesn’t improve quickly and Daniel has to come in next week or two.

Coach Brandon Staley apparently tried to convince Herbert of the merits of leaving the game, but franchise quarterbacks are harder to find than coaches. You know who has the leverage. You know who won.

“He wanted to be out there with his teammates. He felt good and wanted to finish the game. He wanted to give our group some energy,” Staley said. “We wanted to protect him there as much as possible with really solid protection at the end, but it was more about him wanting to deal with his boys.”

It’s commendable that Herbert wanted to share the last few minutes with his teammates, even though those minutes included boos from the fans who remained of an unsold crowd of 67,964. But Staley should have sat on him to get Herbert to watch the fourth quarter from the bench.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws a pass at the Jaguars in the second quarter.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who has injured his rib cartilage, throws a pass at the Jaguars in the second quarter. He didn’t look normal when he threw the football.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

There was more at stake for the Chargers (1-2) than a moment of team bonding. If Herbert had been injured worse, her season would have been as good as over. It could be over anyway with road games in Houston and Cleveland coming up and a Sunday lineup was further weakened by injuries to Joey Bosa (groin), tackle Rashawn Slater (biceps) and wide receiver Jalen Guyton (knee).

It’s early in a 17-game season, but adding those injuries to the absence of wide receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring), center Cory Linsley (knee) and cornerback JC Jackson (ankle) will cause major problems.

“The big picture is always what we think about,” Staley said. “We’re not thinking about this game against Jacksonville, we’re thinking about our entire football team. We’re talking about the whole season. Trust me, we definitely talked about it in the fourth quarter.”

Keeping Herbert fighting for a lost cause belies the notion that Staley had the team’s long-term situation in mind.

“There was just this point where he wanted to make sure he could finish with his teammates. Until you were in that position, it’s hard to explain, but it was important for us to do it,” Staley said. “We were aligned all the way. Going forward, we will keep Justin at the forefront of all decisions we make.”

Herbert said he didn’t have any restrictions on Sunday, but he did look awkward at times, especially when rotating his body. He would not say, citing his privacy, whether he had received an injection of painkillers.

“I trust the medical staff. I trust the coaching staff. You won’t put me in danger,” he said. “I felt safe, they felt safe, so I went out and played.”

Staley couldn’t do anything on Sunday to change Herbert’s mind. But under similar circumstances, he will need to intervene later to prevent Herbert from taking such a big risk for such a small reward.

“I hope we don’t get into a game like this, but I’m sure there will definitely come a point where we would,” Staley said. “When the time comes, we will make the decision.”

Herbert said he accepted the likelihood that the injury would bother him for a while.

“A lot of guys in this dressing room don’t feel good,” he said. “It’s about how you react and how you react.”

His response on Sunday was commendable but misguided. Chargers dumb not to sit injured Justin Herbert in blowout loss

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