Seeing Justin Herbert start his first NFL game in Week 2 was a bit surprising but a welcomed site for Oregon football fans everywhere.
In fact, it was actually a surprise to Herbert as well.
He was told minutes before kickoff that week one starter and 10-year veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor was out with chest pain. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft was next up.
In just the second NFL game of his professional career, against the reigning Super Bowl Champs and MVP Patrick Mahomes, Herbert and the Chargers nearly pulled out the victory. But a Kansas City game-winning field goal in overtime shut down everything you would have heard in the NFL world on Monday.
[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon head football coach Mario Crisotbal].
Herbert made some jaw-dropping throws - ones that Oregon fans are used to - and used his legs when needed, picking up where he left off last January in the 2020 Rose Bowl.
Despite losing to Kansas City, Herbert put up some impressive numbers: He completed 22-for-33 passes for 311 yards, one touchdown in the air and one on the ground and one interception.
This pass to Keenan Allen was special:
“He was prepared. For him to go in and manage the game under those circumstances, I was okay with how he handled that to be honest with you,” said Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn on Herbert’s performance. “I think it’s a great experience for him, a great opportunity for him to grow as a young quarterback and he will get better. And we will have - going into this week if he is our starter - things may be tailored back a bit for him.”
Not too bad for a rookie debut.
“I think unfortunately since we lost, I can’t say too well but there’s definitely things I did poorly and there’s going to be things I’m going to look at on film and watch,” said Herbert following the game. “It’s experience so any chance I can get out there is huge and I’m going to look at it, watch it, and I know I’m going to get better from it.”
The Chargers are finally seeing what Duck fans have witnessed for four years with Herbert running the offense: poise, knowledge of the game, calmness and leadership. Herbert knows adversity and how to overcome it after leading Oregon from a 4-8 season in 2016 and three different head coaches in four years, to a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl victory in his senior season.
So now, the Chargers got a taste of Herbert in a live NFL game. Was his performance enough to really open this quarterback competition up between the rookie and 10-year vet on a weekly basis?
Well, according to Coach Lynn, no.
Taylor is still the starter.
“If he’s 100 percent ready to go, he’s our starter. But I know that Justin can pick up the slack if he can’t.”
It was never in question “if” Herbert would become the starter in Los Angeles - otherwise the Chargers wouldn’t have used their first round pick on the quarterback for their future. But Herbert’s performance in his first career NFL start solidified that decision.
Taylor’s health and Herbert’s progress will be something to watch for this week as the Chargers will host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.