During his first three seasons, Justin Herbert came up big when the Los Angeles Chargers needed a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Herbert will need to rediscover that clutch gene if the Chargers hope to get back to the playoffs for a second straight season.
With the Chargers needing at least a field goal to force Monday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys to go into overtime, Herbert was picked off by Stephon Gilmore at the Los Angeles 33-yard line with 1:22 remaining to seal Dallas’ 20-17 victory.
“As I mentioned after the game, I thought he hung tough. I just don’t think that we operated with consistency last night, and it was a tough night,” coach Brandon Staley said on Tuesday. “We need to be more consistent in order to finish that game.”
The Chargers’ three losses have come by a total of eight points. Herbert directed a late, game-tying drive in Week 2 at Tennessee, but followed that up with a three-and-out in overtime that allowed the Titans to kick the game-winning field goal for a 27-24 victory.
In the opener against Miami, the Chargers turned it over on downs as the Dolphins held on to win 36-34.
In the last three minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime when tied or trailing, Herbert has a 49.3 rating this season. He is 9 of 15 for 90 yards and an interception.
During his first three seasons, when the Chargers were trailing or tied in the final three minutes of regulation or overtime, Herbert directed nine game-winning drives and had an 79.8 rating.
One factor causing Herbert to struggle late in games this season is pass protection. He has been sacked four times on late drives compared to three the past three seasons in the same scenario.
Before Gilmore’s interception, Herbert was sacked by Micah Parsons for an 8-yard loss.
Herbert, who was 22 of 37 for 227 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against the Cowboys, said the broken middle finger on his left non-throwing hand suffered two weeks ago did not play a role in the loss.
“I missed a couple receivers. Threw some bad passes. There was a lot left out there. There’s a lot to work on and a lot to improve on,” he said.
The loss dropped the Chargers to 2-3, the first time in Staley’s three seasons they have been under .500 through five games.
The defense being stout in the red zone. When Dean Marlowe and Khalil Mack stopped Dak Prescott on fourth-and-1 at the Cowboys 13-yard line in the second quarter, it marked the sixth time in 22 occasions the Chargers defense has held a team scoreless in the red zone. Only Buffalo has more red zone stops with eight.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The running game. Despite the return of Austin Ekeler, the Chargers averaged just 2.3 yards per carry with 23 carries for 53 yards. After rushing for a league-high 233 yards in Week 1 against Miami, Los Angeles is averaging 74.8 yards in its past four, the league’s second-lowest, per-game average.
Defensive lineman Morgan Fox has had a sack in four straight games, tied for the second-longest active streak in the league. Fox had two against the Cowboys and has five on the season. He was second on the Chargers with 6 1/2 last season.
Safety Derwin James was called for two 15-yard penalties (roughing the passer and unnecessary roughness). He has a league-leading three unnecessary roughness calls in five games this season after having three during his first five seasons.
Safety and special teams stalwart Raheem Layne tore an ACL during the second half of Monday’s game and will miss the rest of the season.
0 – Catches by first-round pick Quentin Johnston on Monday night. Johnston was targeted twice, including the last offensive play when Herbert was picked off by Gilmore.
The Chargers have a short week to prepare for Sunday’s game at Kansas City. They have dropped three straight to their AFC West rival.
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