INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Anthony Lynn didn’t find out his starting quarterback was injured until right after the coin toss.
So about 10 seconds before the opening kickoff, the Los Angeles Chargers coach found Justin Herbert on the sideline and told the 22-year-old rookie he was taking over for Tyrod Taylor immediately.
“He was in a little bit of shock,” Lynn recalled. “I think he thought I was joking. I had to tell him a couple of times.”
Herbert claimed he didn’t actually think Lynn was joking, but he was every bit as surprised as his teammates. Right up until that moment, nobody had any inkling that the much-anticipated debut of the No. 6 overall pick would happen in Week 2 against the defending Super Bowl champions and during the Chargers’ inaugural game at SoFi Stadium.
“But I know I belong out here,” Herbert said.
Philip Rivers’ heir apparent gathered himself and gave a performance to remember.
Even if the Chargers’ predilection for heartbreaking losses was a problem too big for Herbert to solve in his very first game.
Herbert passed for 311 yards with one touchdown through the air, one with his feet and one costly interception in the Chargers’ 23-20 overtime loss to Kansas City on Sunday.
“That’s one of those moments that I’ve waited for my entire life,” Herbert said. “To be out there going against the Kansas City Chiefs and being alongside some of these guys, it’s a moment that I’ll never forget.”
The Chargers had planned to bring along Herbert slowly behind Taylor, the respected former Buffalo starter who backed up Rivers last season. Taylor’s apparent re-aggravation of a rib injury altered the timetable this week, but the overall plan still hasn’t changed, according to Lynn: If Taylor is healthy, he will start at home against Carolina next Sunday.
“He was our starter for a reason, and if he’s 100 percent healthy, he’s our starter,” Lynn said.
That could be a tough sell to many Chargers fans who got a tantalizing glimpse of their future in this narrow loss to the champs.
Herbert went 22 of 33 against the Chiefs, looking confident and strong in the pocket — and showing the smarts to rely on standout targets Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry, who combined for 13 receptions. Herbert also ran for 18 yards, showing an elusiveness and speed belying his 6-foot-6 frame.
“I just like what I’m seeing,” Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders. It’s gonna be exciting to watch him grow.”
Herbert’s first pass against the Chiefs fell incomplete, but he shook it off and engineered a 79-yard scoring drive capped by his 4-yard TD run. He didn’t get to celebrate wildly because he saw a flag on the field, but it was on the Kansas City defense.
Herbert also showed he meant business early in the game when he scrambled toward the sideline, followed by Damien Wilson. The Chiefs linebacker attempted to deliver a nasty hit to the rookie QB, but ended up injuring himself when Herbert proved tougher than he expected.
Herbert threw his first touchdown pass 2:30 before halftime, hitting Jalen Guyton in the back corner. He went 13 of 20 for 195 yards without an interception in the first half.
“We just tried to rally around the young boy, let him know that we’ve got his back,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “Going against the defending champs, not even knowing he was going to play, that would be too big for some guys, but he was able to handle it and go out and have a solid game.”
Herbert made his biggest mistake in the final minute of the third quarter after another solid drive. With plenty of artificial turf in front of him on a scramble, Herbert instead tried to throw deep down the middle toward Allen, and L’Jarius Sneed picked it off.
The Chiefs marched 95 yards for a TD and a tying 2-point conversion.
“The kid did a great job and managed the game well,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid said. “He made plays when they needed to, but had the turnover which bit him.”
Herbert got awfully close to a victory. He led the Chargers on a 17-play, 82-yard drive that consumed nearly 10 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, but he got dropped at the Kansas City 5 on third and goal.
After the Chargers’ three-and-out to begin overtime, Patrick Mahomes engineered the Chiefs’ game-winning drive. Herbert got a firsthand look at how an MVP operates, and he intends to use the entire unexpected experience as fuel.
“It’s adversity,” Herbert said. “I know we’ll learn from it, and in the long run, it’s going to help us. It might stink now, and it’s definitely tough, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re going to watch the film and get better.”
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