The Los Angeles Chargers were unable to stop the Kansas City Chiefs on their final four possessions, wasting a 311-yard, two-touchdown performance by quarterback Justin Herbert in his NFL debut in a 23-20 overtime loss Sunday.
Herbert was pressed into the unexpected start against the reigning Super Bowl champions because Tyrod Taylor experienced difficulty breathing before the opening kickoff because of a chest injury and was taken to the locker room for evaluation, the team announced. He was taken to a hospital shortly thereafter to undergo further evaluation.
Taylor was discharged from the hospital later Sunday. His status for next Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers at SoFi Stadium will be determined later this week, according to the team.
Herbert completed 22 of 33 passes, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Guyton two minutes, 30 seconds before halftime, and ran 4 yards for a score on the opening drive of the Chargers first game at SoFi Stadium which was played without spectators present because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Herbert said coach Anthony Lynn told him five-to-10 seconds before the kickoff that he would be starting.
“It caught me by surprise a little bit, but I’ve been training like I’m the guy so I was ready for the game and went in there and had fun,” said Herbert, selected by the Chargers with the sixth choice in April’s NFL draft out of Oregon.
Herbert’s 311 passing yards were the fourth-most in an NFL debut since the merger with the American Football League went into effect in 1970, behind Cam Newton’s 422 for the Carolina Panthers in 2011, Ed Rubbert’s 334 for the Washington Redskins during a replacement game during the 1987 players strike and 320 by Robert Griffin III in a 2012 game for Washington.
Herbert joined Newton and Otto Graham as the only players with 300 passing yards and a rushing touchdown in an NFL debut. Graham accomplished the feat in 1950 for the Cleveland Browns after playing four seasons for them in the All-America Football Conference, whose statistics are not recognized by the NFL.
Herbert became the first player with a rushing touchdown and passing touchdown in the first half of his NFL debut since Bob Clatterbuck of the New York Giants in 1954. Clatterbuck’s five-season professional career ended with the Chargers during their inaugural 1960 season, which included starting two games in place of injured starter Jack Kemp.
“For him to be able to throw the ball down the field and get points on the board, I thought he did a great job,” Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes said.
Michael Badgley’s 41-yard field goal on the Chargers’ first drive of the second half gave them a 17-6 lead with 8:07 remaining in the third quarter, but they were unable to stop the Chiefs (2-0) again.
The Chargers (1-1) allowed three field goals by Harrison Butker, including a 58-yarder with 1:55 left in overtime, and Mahomes’ 54-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill on Kansas City’s final four possessions.
The Chargers held the Chiefs to Mahomes’ 10-yard second-quarter touchdown pass to Travis Kelce and 157 yards in their first six possessions but allowed 277 yards and 17 points over the final four.
“We just have to do a better job of keeping him in the pocket,” Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa said of Mahomes, who completed 27 of 47 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a team-high 54 yards on six carries. “We saw it last year in the Super Bowl, we saw it last year in Mexico, we let him outside, he’s going to make plays with his feet.”
Mahomes ran for first downs on third down four times Sunday — twice on Kansas City’s first touchdown drive, once on the drive resulting in Butker’s 30-yard field goal tying the score as time expired in regulation and once more on the game-winning drive — as the Chiefs won their 11th consecutive game, including three in the 2019 postseason.
The streak began with a 24-17 victory over the Chargers Nov. 18 in Mexico City where Mahomes ran for 59 yards on five carries, including running for first downs on third down three times.
Despite the late defensive shortcomings, the Chargers outgained Kansas City 479-414 Sunday and led 28-23 in first downs and 39:27-28:38 in time of possession.
“I thought the first half the defense played outstanding,” Lynn said after the Chargers’ 12th loss in their last 13 games against the Chiefs dating back to 2014 and seventh consecutive loss to an AFC West opponent. “We did not give up any explosive plays the first half. We gave up our first explosive (play) in the second half and that was the touchdown to Tyreek.
“That is what you have to do against this team, you have to limit their explosive plays and slow them down that way, and I thought we did that for the most part, until the second half. We have to keep containing (Mahomes). I thought he ran for just too many yards at critical times in the game.”
The Chargers had the ball to start the overtime. Herbert’s 6-yard pass to Mike Williams gave them a fourth-and-1 on their 34-yard line, with Lynn opting to punt.
“We considered going for it, but it was a little bit more than one (yard),” said Lynn, whose team was one-for-two on fourth-down conversions. “At that point in time, I thought I would give us a chance to extend the game and it didn’t work out.”
Kansas City began the winning drive on its 21-yard line. Mahomes ran 4 yards to the Chiefs’ 45-yard line for their second first down of the possession. His 3-yard scramble advanced the ball to the Chargers’ 46-yard line to set up a fourth-and-1 which Kansas City converted on Darwin Thompson’s 2-yard run.
Mahomes’ 5- and 4-yard passes to Hill and Clyde Edwards-Helaire moved the ball to the Chargers’ 35-yard line. Butker entered the game to attempt a game-winning 53-yard field goal. However, Chiefs guard Nick Allegretti was called for a false start.
The Chargers then called a time out in an attempt to put more pressure on Butker, but to no avail, as he again tied the franchise record for the longest field goal, set by Nick Lowery in 1983, tied by Lowery in 1985 and by Butker with 3:11 left in third quarter.
Butker’s first 58-yard field goal cut the deficit to 17-9. Kansas City tied the score on its next possession on Mahomes’ 54-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill and pass to Mecole Hardman for a two-point conversion with 12:48 to play in the fourth quarter.
The touchdown came six plays after cornerback L’Jarius Sneed intercepted a long pass by Herbert at the Chargers’ 5-yard line, the game’s only turnover.
The drive was extended when an apparent interception by Chargers defensive back Desmond King was nullified by an offside penalty by defensive tackle Jerry Tillery.
The Chargers regained the lead with 2:27 left on Badgley’s 23-yard field goal on a 17-play, 82-yard drive that consumed 10:21. The Chargers had a first-and-goal from the Chiefs’ 4-yard line. Rookie Joshua Kelley ran for 1 yard on first down, lost 1 yard on second down and Herbert was sacked for a 1-yard loss on third down.
Mahomes converted two third downs on the final drive of regulation, which began on the Chiefs’ 25-yard line with 2:20 to play.
Mahomes completed a 10-yard pass to Hill for a first down on the Chargers’ 35-yard line on a third-and-7 play and ran 21 yards to the Chargers’ 24 on a third-and-20 play, three plays after Kansas City was pushed back to the Chargers’ 45-yard line because of a holding penalty against guard Andrew Wylie.
“When I took off running I was more worried about trying to get into field goal range to get Butker to be able to tie the game,” Mahomes said.