NFC West Writer
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — A half-hour after another disappointing, late-game loss for the Los Angeles Chargers — this one a 20-17 heartbreaker to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night — Justin Herbert sat at his locker in SoFi Stadium still wearing his full uniform.
Herbert and L.A.’s offense had taken over the ball at his team’s 25-yard-line with 2:19 left, needing just a field goal to tie the game. An offsides penalty made it first-and-5 from the 30-yard line.
The Chargers still failed to get a first down, let alone cross midfield. On third-and-10, Herbert was intercepted by Dallas cornerback Stephon Gilmore while trying to get the ball to rookie receiver Quentin Johnston. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott then took two knees for the win.
With the loss, the Chargers dropped to 2-3 on the season and have to face the Super Bowl champion Chiefs in Kansas City on a short week.
In addition to failing to get his offense into scoring position, Herbert also missed his favorite target in Keenan Allen on two potential chunk plays earlier in the game that would have put the Chargers in scoring position.
For much of the night, Herbert was under siege by Pro Bowler Micah Parsons and the rest of the Dallas defensive front. According to Next Gen Stats, Parsons generated six of his team-high seven pressures against Chargers right tackle Trey Pipkins (across 28 matchups), including a sack in the final two minutes of the game.
Herbert was pressured on a season-high 47.6% of his dropbacks, forcing him to play faster than he wanted and to rush throws.
“Keenan ran two great routes and I missed him,” Herbert said. “That’s on me as a quarterback. We have those explosive opportunities and we have to capitalize on those. That’s a really good defense that we’re going up against.
“I can’t miss those like that and expect to continue get back on third down and get back on track on second down. Tough opportunities. We’ll watch the film and be critical on ourselves. We’ll learn from it.”
Herbert finished 22-of-37 for 227 yards, with two touchdowns passes and that pivotal interception on his final throw of the game. He finished with an 84.0 passer rating.
The QB didn’t get much help from the Chargers’ running game. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who was the Cowboys’ OC the past four years, could not get anything going on the ground against his former team. The Chargers finished with 53 rushing yards on 23 carries for a paltry 2.3 yards per carry.
“We have to be more effective in that phase if you’re going to play high-level offense against a pass rush like that,” head coach Brandon Staley said.
Penalties also hurt the Chargers. They finished with nine accepted penalties for 79 yards, including two personal fouls on safety Derwin James that helped to extend Dallas drives. James now has four personal foul penalties this year.
Dave Helman reacts to Cowboys’ win over Chargers
But the spotlight comes back to Herbert. The Chargers signed him to a seven-year, $262.5 million extension during the offseason to lead them to victory in games like this. Herbert is in his fourth NFL season and has yet to win a postseason game. He has had only one playoff opportunity, which resulted in L.A.’s epic collapse to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wild-card round last season.
The last time the Chargers won the AFC West was in 2009.
Herbert, Staley and the rest of this group have pressure to not only reach the playoffs this year but to make a deep postseason run. And it starts with Herbert making plays in the critical moments of games that lead his team to victory. Herbert has thrown 13 interceptions in the fourth quarter of one-score games since he entered the league in 2020, five more than any other quarterback during that period.
The Chargers were in a similar situation to Monday night in the team’s season opener against the Miami Dolphins at SoFi Stadium. L.A. trailed by two points with just under two minutes left and needed only a field goal to win. But the offense failed to get a first down in that situation as well, going backward 19 yards and turning it over on downs for Miami to salt away the game.
Herbert has led his team to victory in late-game situations before. He has 11 comeback victories over four seasons, most recently in Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings, a 28-24 come-from-behind victory.
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With the Chargers a third of the way through the season and facing the Chiefs, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers over the next month, Los Angeles can use some Herbert magic. The Chargers need to string together a few wins to remain in the postseason hunt for the backstretch of the regular season.
Asked by a reporter about the perception that Herbert is not clutch, Keenan Allen had a one-word response.
“Cap,” Allen said.
Well, if it’s not the truth, Herbert has 12 more games to prove the rest of the NFL wrong.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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