They called it “wack,” “inexcusable” and “stupid.”
At least a couple of them called it something that can’t be repeated here, other than to underline the fact that the Chargers were not pleased with Jerry Tillery’s late hit on Justin Herbert.
Tillery, a former Chargers first-round draft pick and current Las Vegas defensive tackle, drilled Herbert when the quarterback was out of bounds after a scramble midway through the second quarter.
“This is a violent game and everyone puts their bodies on the line every day to go out and perform,” Chargers defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said. “Why do something that stupid? That was cheap.”
Tillery was called for a 15-yard penalty and ejected. The Chargers scored to go up 17-7 three plays later when Herbert passed seven yards to Keenan Allen.
After being taken 28th overall in 2019, Tillery’s time with the Chargers was marked by inconsistent play and questionable on-field judgment, his frequent penalties a detriment.
The Chargers finally waived him in November of 2022 and the Raiders claimed him.
“He knows how we feel about Justin…” cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. said. “I don’t really appreciate what he did there. And he played here. So that made it more, I feel like, personal.”
After the hit along the Chargers’ sideline, Herbert’s teammates quickly encircled Tillery to support their quarterback. The situation was defused without further incident.
Herbert later called Tillery “a good friend” and “a great teammate.” He said he harbored no hard feelings over the hit.
“That’s just an inexcusable play,” Chargers right tackle Trey Pipkins III said. “Obviously, you gotta stand up for your quarterback when something like that happens. … He’s got to figure it out for himself, I guess, what the right and wrong thing to do is.”
Coach Brandon Staley said he more than appreciated the way the rest of the Chargers responded.
"I love all that,” he said. “I'm here for all of that. I love when my team looks like that. That's their quarterback. That's a sign of a good team. That was an igniter for us.
“Justin looks at us and just gives us a wink because that hit doesn't hurt Justin Herbert. It helped fuel our guys. Our guys were up for the challenge. They were going to go defend their guy.”
Herbert was asked afterward about his head coach’s winking comment.
"I don't remember doing that,” he said. “I don't think so. I'm not one to wink, so I don't think that was me.”
Other takeaways from the victory:
In opening their 24-7 halftime lead, the Chargers scored on four of their first five series. That was it, however, as they failed to score on their final five full possessions, a drought that included three three-and-outs.
Their lone third-down conversion after halftime came on Herbert’s 51-yard completion to Joshua Palmer in the final two minutes.
Staley said the offense “never got into a rhythm” and “didn't really get into a sequencing” over the final two quarters. The Chargers finished with 155 rushing yards, but only 29 came after halftime.
The Chargers also struggled protecting Herbert, who was sacked twice — both times by Maxx Crosby — and repeatedly pressured.
Herbert’s 167 passing yards and 13 completions were both career lows. In fact, Sunday was only the second time in 53 career starts that he didn’t complete at least 20 passes.
Remember, 51 of those yards came on his final pass, too. The 24 attempts also were Herbert’s fewest in one game.
Khalil Mack finished one sack short of tying Derrick Thomas’ NFL record of seven in one game. Thomas, a Hall of Famer who spent his career with Kansas City, set the league mark during the 1990 season against Seattle.
“We just had time to get there,” Mack said later, noting the play of the Chargers’ secondary. “Everybody working together. … Everybody knowing the mission.”
Entering Sunday, Mack had zero sacks for the season. He totaled eight in 17 games last year.
Mack also was credited with a team-high 10 tackles, matching the second-best single-game output of his career. He had 11 tackles for Oakland in a 2014 game and 10 for the Raiders early in 2016.
“This guy is one of the best edge players of a generation,” Staley said. “And he is still that guy. He just showed everybody, 'I'm still that guy.’ ”
The Chargers’ JK Scott didn’t have one of his better days, averaging 40 yards on four punts. One of his efforts traveled only 23 yards, setting up Las Vegas’ first touchdown drive. It was the second shaky game in a row for the veteran.
The Chargers also gave up a 40-yard kickoff return to DeAndre Carter.
“Our special teams wasn't nearly good enough today, just a poor performance by us,” Staley said. “We lost a lot of field position today because of it. We're going to have to improve in that area.”
Upon further review
Staley wanted to challenge a crucial fourth-down-converting catch by Davante Adams in the final three minutes but opted not to because of a lack of convincing evidence.
“I was hoping that I could get an angle,” he said. “…Obviously, it was close. Just didn't feel like it would be worth burning [a challenge] based on the situation and what could potentially happen if we didn't get it. We wanted to have all of our timeouts.”
The Chargers were leading 24-17 at that point. On the next snap, Samuel picked off Las Vegas quarterback Aidan O’Connell.
In his own words
“He wasn't coming out. It was one of those things where he was going back in, and he has that look, 'I'm going back in. I'm good.' Just to show that toughness to the team. … When your franchise quarterback embodies all of that, everyone else jumps along.” — Staley on Herbert returning after suffering his third-quarter finger injury.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.