Chargers QB Justin Herbert feeling better with each passing week

COSTA MESA — When quarterback Justin Herbert fractured his rib cartilage in a loss in Week 2 to the Kansas City Chiefs, it seemed the Chargers’ season might be in jeopardy. When he looked stiff and robotic in a loss in Week 3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, it seemed their season was in jeopardy.

When wide receiver Keenan Allen suffered a setback during the bye week in his recovery from a hamstring injury, after Mike Williams suffered a high ankle sprain in a loss in Week 7 to the Seattle Seahawks, it appeared the Chargers’ fortunes had taken another very wrong turn.

Slowly, certainly, Herbert gathered all those fears in his powerful right hand, bundled them up and then put them to rest during a victory in Week 9 over the Atlanta Falcons. Calmly, coolly, collectedly, he passed for 245 yards and one touchdown, completing 30 of 43 passes.

It wasn’t so much what Herbert did while rallying the Chargers for a 20-17 victory Sunday, but how he did it. He threw with his customary accuracy and efficiency, using his feet to escape pressure at times, finding alternatives when his primary targets were covered and looking as poised as ever.

Order restored?

Crisis averted?

“He feels a lot better,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said Wednesday. “He feels a lot better and that counts for a lot. I really felt he was playing (Sunday) the way he can play and was just really in control of the game plan. Throughout the game, I thought he made good adjustments and was a good decision maker and made fast decisions and played really well in the clutch.”

One big difference between the Herbert who appeared to be suffering in Week 3 and the Herbert who was so effective in leading a last-minute drive that led to Cameron Dicker’s winning 37-yard field goal as time expired Sunday was the ease in which he moved around the field.

The Falcons didn’t pressure Herbert often, but when they did, he used his legs to set up his throws. He created time and space for himself by darting away from the pressure and finding open receivers. It was something he seemed incapable of doing in the weeks after his injury.

When given time, he didn’t miss his targets against Atlanta. It didn’t matter that Allen and Williams were sidelined (and are likely to be out again when the Chargers play against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Santa Clara). Herbert simply turned to Joshua Palmer as his new top target.

Palmer caught eight passes for a career-high 106 yards, including a laser from Herbert for a 22-yard gain to the Falcons’ 21-yard line that set up a 2-yard run from running back Austin Ekeler that moved the ball to the 19, setting up Dicker for what proved to be a chip shot.

“It’s been better each week,” Herbert said Sunday of his fractured rib cartilage. “I think time is the best thing for it, to heal, recover. I just do everything I can in the treatment room to do my best on Sunday. It’s one of those things that you just kind of have to go through and go through with time, making sure that you’re not getting in harm’s way, not taking unnecessary shots, things like that.

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“But it has gotten better.”

Because he’s feeling better, the Chargers were able to diversify their passing game against the Falcons, according to Staley. Despite his injury, Herbert ranks fifth in the NFL with 2,254 passing yards, completing 66.4 percent of his throws (233 of 351) in eight games so far this season.

“Textbook Justin,” Staley said. “He’s playing really well at the end of the game. He’s practiced really well. The big difference between then and now, too, is he’s been able to practice full (speed) and been able to get that full timing and rhythm. He’s shown a lot of toughness. He’s been a good example for all of us.”


Dicker was named the AFC’s special teams player of the week after kicking the tying and winning field goals against the Falcons. … The Chargers signed defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko to their active roster and placed defensive lineman Austin Johnson on injured reserve. Johnson fractured his knee and sprained his MCL on Sunday and is out for the rest of the season. … The kickoff for the Chargers’ game Nov. 20 against the Chiefs at SoFi Stadium has been moved to 5:20 p.m.

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