Match two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history throw for throw? Check.
Show surgical precision and uncanny poise for a rookie? Check.
Carve out a spot in the NFL record books? Check.
One of the few things Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert hasn’t done is win a game.
The No.6 overall pick in this year’s draft dropped to 0-4 as a starter after Monday night’s 30-27 overtime loss to New Orleans, yet another one-score defeat for the Chargers, who lead the league with four of them this season.
“To be so close in these past four games, it hurts a lot,” Herbert said, his jaw clenched tighter than a pinpoint spiral. “But I know we’re going to go back, we’re going to turn it around, things are going to change. We’ve just got to keep attacking and know that the wins are going to come.”
Hope springs eternal, even though this has been a maddening pattern for the Chargers. Nine of their losses last season were by one score or less, tying an NFL record.
Herbert, 22, became the first rookie — and the youngest player — to throw four touchdown passes in a “Monday Night Football” game. According to ESPN, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Dan Marino are the only other players to do that before turning 24.
Of course, all of that was merely fluff to Herbert when it doesn’t come with a victory. He watched in exasperation as kicker Michael Badgley’s would-be game-winning field goal doinked off the inside of the right upright from 50 yards at the end of regulation, falling harmlessly to the turf.
Minutes later, after the Saints kicked a field goal in overtime, the Chargers failed to answer with a
counterpunch. Herbert connected with Mike Williams over the middle on fourth and six near midfield, but the Chargers receiver was tackled a foot short of the first down, ending the game.
“We’ve just got to learn to finish and close out games,” Herbert said.
Monday’s loss was similar in some regards to the 38-31 loss to the Buccaneers a week earlier. In both games, the Chargers built a 17-point lead early, then started to see that slip away right before halftime. Both Brady and Brees directed touchdown drives at the end of the second quarter.
Both the Buccaneers and Saints clawed their way back into the game in the second half, and wound up winning.
Monday, Herbert was handcuffed because he was without his best receiver, Keenan Allen, for much of the game. Allen left with a back injury shortly after a 17-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
That scoring pass was an indication of just how dangerous Herbert can be. He escaped a Saints blitz, rolled to his right, and threw a pristine pass to Allen cutting left to right across the end zone.
“If you’ve got a guy back there that’s stationary and can’t move, sometimes that’s hard,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “But he showed that he can extend plays and he can throw the ball, and you saw that tonight.”
Still, the frustration is mounting. Another blown double-digit lead. Another eternal, silent flight home.
According to ESPN, even the great Brees was 1-48 after falling behind by 17 points or more. Now, he’s 2-48.
“We’ve got to keep moving forward,” Herbert said. “The next practice, the next opportunity to go out on the field, we have to take advantage of it. It’s not going to change by itself.”
Farmer reported from Los Angeles.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.