Herbert, Chargers ride high, but Brady closes the deal

A couple of takeaways from the Los Angeles Chargers’ 38-31 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady. Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, for the third week in a row, justified why Los Angeles made him the No. 6 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft with another rock-solid performance. 

“I thought he played well, but we lost the game. So any time we lose a game, it’s not good enough,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “I can’t say someone played outstanding and then we go out and lose the damn football game. But I thought he handled the situation we put him well. He made some great throws early…took some shots. He stood in the pocket and threw it. We knew they were going to blitz on first and second down, and he took some stuff and got rid of the ball. That’s what good quarterbacks do. That was nice to see.”

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Another plus for the Chargers was having young players like Donald Parham Jr., Jalen Guyton, and Tyron Johnson show off with scoring receptions that signals they are the wave of the future for the team. Unfortunately, turnovers were also part of the game narrative that Lynn wasn’t too happy about. The Chargers had two miscues in the game-one right before halftime. 

“For that to happen is inexcusable,” Lynn said.   

Good or bad, momentum can swing on a dime in the NFL. The Chargers got reminded of this harsh lesson in their Week 4 contest against Brady and the Buccaneers. Up 24-7 at one point in the second quarter, the Chargers saw their one-time 17-point lead in the second quarter evaporate into a four-point deficit by the end of the third quarter. 

Brady and the Buccaneers reeled off 21-unanswered points to take the lead. The Chargers answered back with a 72-yard pass and catch from Herbert to Guyton. Success would prove to be fleeting for Herbert and the Chargers because Brady, capping his 369 yards and five touchdown day, rallied his troops for another passing score. 

“We put ourselves in a pretty good hole and we were going to have to dig our way out of it,” Brady said. “That’s just the way football works sometimes – just have to tighten some things up. Glad we came back – defense made a big play for us before the end of the [first] half and that got us ignited a little bit. We made some plays in the third quarter and made some good plays in the fourth quarter. Started the game well [and] finished the game well – that middle part – we have to figure out how to play 60 minutes well.”

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Tampa Bay added a field goal to pad their lead, but the damage had already been done. What appeared to be a possible runaway Chargers’ victory flipped into a third consecutive loss for Herbert and the Chargers. 

After spotting Brady and the Buccaneers a 7-0 lead, the Chargers then went on a 24-point blitz. Los Angeles looked as if they would take that lead as well as the momentum into the locker room as Brady and his teammates pondered what hit them. The game would switch gears from there. The Buccaneers received an unexpected gift that clearly changed the tide of the football game. 

With the Chargers pinned deep inside their own 10-yard line, rookie running back Joshua Kelley fumbled the football. The Buccaneers recovered. A couple of players later, Brady connected with Mike Evans for a short touchdown pass. And just like that, the Chargers had all that capital they had built up sapped away.      

What took place before halftime had a snowball effect. Brady and the Buccaneers engineered a ferocious in the third quarter to take the lead. A six-time Super Bowl champ, Brady made the Chargers pay for Kelley’s incidental miscue.

“That play itself definitely gave us a boost,” Tampa Bay cornerback Carlton Davis III said. “It shifted the momentum in the game and it happened right before halftime, which was good for us because we were able to go back and adjust and make some changes – some corrections – and with that momentum, we went out there and took care of business in the second half.”  

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Herbert’s 290 passing yards and three touchdowns effort against Tampa Bay was almost enough to carry the Chargers to a win. Three games in, Herbert has thrown for 931 yards and five touchdowns in his three starts. Those numbers put Herbert at the No. 2 position for quarterbacks making their first three starts. 

Only New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1,012 yards, 4TD) has thrown for more. Brady said he was impressed by what he saw from the young quarterback. 

“He was very impressive today and he played great,” Brady said. “Our defense played great all year and he hung in there and made a lot of good throws. They hit us on some big plays – we blitzed them a little bit and he just stood in there and took it. He’s got, obviously, all the ability, he’s got a great arm and moves really well. The team believes in him, so he’s off to a great start.”

Outside of Herbert’s steady play, Lynn complimented the play of Parham, Guyton and Johnson. If there was a question about the Chargers having enough playmakers to surround his quarterbacks with outside of Hunter Henry and Keenan Allen, Parham, Guyton and Johnson gave an emphatic answer with their production. 

“We knew the young guys would have to step up,” Lynn said. “We even flexed up Tyron Johnson from the practice squad. [And] Jalen Guyton has been making a play every single week. Those young guys…they’re on the come. They’re big. They can run…exactly what we need. I thought they stepped up today and did a decent job.”

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Johnson was on the receiving end of a 53-yard pass touchdown thrown by Herbert in the first quarter. At 6-foot-8, Parham outleaped a Tampa Bay defender to come down a 19-yard scoring toss by Herbert. Guyton’s long haul scoring reception from Herbert gave the Chargers their last lead of the afternoon. 

As great as his touchdown moment was, Johnson said he’d rather get the win instead.

 “It most definitely was a special moment, but you know, hopefully, we could have gotten the win, but it didn’t go like that. I’d trade a touchdown for a win any day.”   

While the loss stings, Herbert gave praise to his group of wideouts and Parham, who is listed as a tight end.

“Those guys stepped up huge today,” said Herbert. “Whenever you miss Mike Williams, it’s going to be tough out there. But those guys filled a huge void.”

As great as Herbert and the offense played, the Chargers are still staring in the mirror of a three-game losing streak. Another area of concern is the fact the Chargers’ No. 8 defense served up five touchdown passes and 38 total points in the road defeat. Making the loss even more painful to absorb is seeing running back Austin Ekeler get injured and come out of the game. 

Editor’s note: Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) pulls in a 28-yard touchdown reception after getting past Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Kyzir White (44) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

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