Justin Herbert has been praised plenty three starts into his NFL career, teammates often noting his strong and accurate right arm, poise and pocket mobility.
The recognition reached new heights Sunday when Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians, referring to Herbert’s ability to retreat from pressure and still throw with power and precision, likened him to Patrick Mahomes.
Herbert’s coach, Anthony Lynn, has been reserved in his public assessment of the rookie quarterback. The Chargers are 0-3 in Herbert’s starts, despite his production.
On Monday, after Herbert’s finest effort yet in a 38-31 loss to the Buccaneers, Lynn felt compelled to offer reporters some insight.
“You guys got to me a couple weeks ago after we lost the Kansas City game and caught me in a pissed-off mood and wanted me to compliment everybody, but I wasn’t going to do that,” he said. “I didn’t feel like it was the right time for that.
“Somehow, the narrative is that I don’t like my quarterback, for whatever reason. We drafted this young man at No. 6 in the draft. You know what I’m saying? I mean, I’m tied to this young man. I love Justin and Justin knows that. And that’s really all that matters.”
Herbert completed 20 of 25 attempts for 290 yards and three touchdowns against the Buccaneers. After the Chargers blew a 17-point first-half lead, he hit Jalen Guyton for a 72-yard score on the final play of the third quarter to retake the lead.
At that point, Herbert had a perfect passer rating going against a defense known for its ability to pressure quarterbacks. He repeatedly stood in the pocket against the pass rush and delivered.
Still, Lynn again tempered his praise of Herbert, saying, “Anytime we lose the game, it’s not good enough.”
Lynn expanded on his thoughts Monday, explaining that he is concerned about putting too much on Herbert so early in his career. Lynn repeatedly has said veteran Tyrod Taylor, when fully healthy, would return as the team’s starter.
“I gotta protect him too,” Lynn said. “A lot of young quarterbacks come in this league and they struggle when you have to throw them in there and they play right away.
“So I gotta balance throwing him in there right away into the fire or letting him sit and watch and learn like Patrick Mahomes did. That’s something that I’m evaluating.”
Taylor started the opener but has since been sidelined because of a rib injury and a punctured lung. He is getting closer to practicing, but Lynn said it still was too early to know if he can play next Monday night at New Orleans.
If Taylor isn’t fully recovered, Herbert will make a fourth consecutive start, this one on national television.
“It’s what I expected, especially from a first-round guy,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said of Herbert’s production. “You expect him to come in, be a baller, be the guy he was in college. I think he’s been doing that.”
Ekeler out for weeks
With injured running back Austin Ekeler expected to miss at least a month, Lynn said the Chargers will continue to rely on Josh Kelley despite the rookie fumbling the last two weeks.
“He’s got to be able to leave things in the past and learn from it,” Lynn said. “He’s pretty upset right now. But … I know his background. I know his patterns. He’s overcome a lot in his life. … He’ll bounce back because we need him. We don’t have nobody else. We need him.”
Ekeler suffered a hamstring injury late in the first quarter Sunday and struggled getting onto a cart to be taken to the locker room. Kelley and Justin Jackson are the only running backs on the active roster. Darius Bradwell and Troymaine Pope are on the practice squad.
Kelley’s fumble against the Buccaneers came in the final minute of the first half, with the Chargers leading 24-7 and deep in their territory.
Tampa Bay had one timeout, meaning the Chargers could have instructed Herbert to take a knee and run out the clock. Instead, with two timeouts left, they attempted a trap play to see if they could jump start a final push for points.
“I had no problem at all with that call,” Lynn said. “It’s a routine play. We practice it every single day. It was just unfortunate that the young man got a little anxious and he dropped the ball.”
The Buccaneers recovered at the Chargers’ six-yard line and scored to make it 24-14 at halftime.
Lynn said that if Kelley hadn’t gained significant yards on first down, the Chargers would have taken a knee.
“That’s routine with that much time left and that many timeouts,” he said. “That’s routine.”