This is where it all started for Los Angeles Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. It was in the second week of this season when a medical accident on the sideline punctured the lung of starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, which forced Herbert to jump into the starting role ahead of schedule.
It seemed as if the Chargers were sending a babe into the woods, underprepared to match skills against the World Champion Kansas City Chiefs and their prolific quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
Mismatch before it started. Right?
It may well have been that Herbert being thrown into action without prior notice was a very good thing for the young signal caller out of Oregon. He didn’t lose sleep the night before in anticipation of his first NFL start. Instead, the call to action was thrust upon him like any unexpected event that often human nature is able to handle in the moment much better than preparation could produce.
The Chargers defense played inspired ball to protect the kid from a beating on the scoreboard, and Los Angeles’ offense performed better than anyone on either sideline could have imagined.
Los Angeles led the game most of the way, and then, the championship calibre carried the day as the Chiefs pushed the game to overtime and won in the extra period, 23-20.
While the Chargers lost the game, they were confident that they may well have discovered their franchise quarterback. So much so, that when Taylor recovered from his punctured lung head coach Anthony Lynn left him on the bench in favor of the rookie.
Now, while Herbert was scoring accolades from observers for his work behind center, one thing that was lacking from that first effort against the Chiefs persisted. Despite his admirable play, the Chargers weren’t winning games. In his first eight starts the rookie only notched one win, a victory over the talent challenged Jacksonville Jaguars.
Herbert was not getting criticized for the losses, the blame was instead distributed to the Chargers defense and head coach Lynn. Somehow, through it all, Lynn kept his job, a fact that is expected to be erased this coming Monday. No team in the league was more adept at playing leads into losses than the Chargers. If it was a three quarter game, Los Angeles would be headed to the playoffs.
But, fourth quarter collapses, some unexplainable with the English language not including vulgar slang for fans of the Chargers, buried the Chargers in the AFC West Division cellar. Even with the effectiveness of Herbert at quarterback, the Chargers lost six straight point spread decisions after that lone win over the Jaguars.
Then, over the past three weeks, the Chargers have won three straight games and point spread decisions over the Atlanta Falcons, Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos. On Sunday, they close out their season with a visit to Arrowhead Stadium, and Herbert meets the team he was pressed into duty to face 15 weeks ago, the Chiefs.
This time, the Chefs aren’t playing a game they are looking to win in defense of their Super Bowl title. This time, the Chiefs are looking to get through this game without suffering any injuries in preparation for playing games that matter that start in two weeks. Kansas City is the only team in the National Football League to be locked into their playoff slot entering the final week of the regular season. With last week’s win over the Falcons, the Chiefs clinched the top seed in the AFC and gained the only postseason bye in the conference.
Now, they play out the season in a game that means nothing to them.
The Chiefs have been underdogs only once this season, a Week Three contest in Baltimore after they beat the Chargers in overtime. In that game, the Chiefs lit up the Ravens defense and coasted to a convincing road triumph, 34-20.
They are underdogs again tomorrow, but not because of facing a tough opponent on the road, but rather because they are in a meaningless game.
Meaningless to them, but a chance for the Chargers to close out their season, and in all likelihood Lynn’s career in Los Angeles, with a satisfying road victory.
Qoxhi Picks: Los Angeles Chargers (-3½) over Kansas City Chiefs