Chargers coach Brandon Staley let Justin Herbert decide to keep playing injured in blowout loss to Jaguars

Justin Herbert was a game-time decision to play Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars after fracturing rib cartilage in Week 2.

Then he lost his blindside protection in the third quarter when Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater left the game with a biceps injury. So why — when his Los Angeles Chargers hopelessly trailed in a 38-10 loss — was the franchise quarterback still on the field late in the game?

It’s a question that surfaced in the fourth quarter as Herbert kept playing while the Jaguars held leads of 31-10 and 38-10. Head coach Brandon Staley explained the decision when asked about it in his postgame news conference. He left the decision up to Herbert.

“He wanted to be out there with his teammates,” Staley said.He felt good, and he wanted to finish the game. He wanted to give our group some energy.

“And we were going to protect him there at the end with really sound protection — as best we could. But it was more about him wanting to finish with his guys.”

Again, the Chargers were playing with backup left tackle Storm Norton, who almost immediately allowed a pressure of Herbert upon entering the game and finished with a pair of holding penalties. Protection was going to be only so “sound.” Also, it’s the coach’s job to make this kind of decision specifically because NFL quarterbacks are generally predisposed to gutting it out despite the risk — especially one of Herbert’s caliber.

Let Herbert explain.

“I just didn’t want to quit on the team,” Herbert said. “Obviously a tough day for us. But didn’t want to go out. I felt like we were getting the ball out quick. I didn’t want to quit on my team.

“Sometimes you have to put your own goals behind the team, and I think that’s what’s most important. I felt like I was safe out there. And I didn’t want to quit on my team.”

He added that he wouldn’t have started Sunday if he hadn’t been assured by the team’s medical staff that he would be safe.

Sep 25, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley watches game action against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 25, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley watches game action against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

From a risk-reward perspective, the call was simple. Take Herbert out of the game. The upside of keeping him in the game was reducing a double-digit deficit to a smaller double-digit deficit. The downside was continued physical punishment of an already injured franchise quarterback who didn’t have his best lineman on the field.

“That was just the decision that we made,” Staley asked when pressed about the decision. “It was about us finishing the game as a team. And it was important to us that we did it.”

Thankfully for Herbert and the Chargers, no further damage was done. Herbert finished the game taking just one sack. The result doesn’t mean that Staley made the right call.

Staley is one of the game’s brightest young coaching stars who has made his reputation by making unorthodox, but often correct — according to analytics — decisions in high-leverage situations. Sunday’s call to keep Herbert in the game was not one of those decisions.

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