It’s too easy to blame the glove — or what’s underneath it.
Last week against the Chiefs, Chargers doctors put a 3XL glove on quarterback Justin Herbert’s left hand with a middle finger from a 4XL glove stitched on to account for a bulky brace. He’d broken his middle finger Oct. 1 when Herbert got it jammed in the customized facemask of Raiders star edge rusher Maxx Crosby.
The glove got stuck while he was handing the ball off against the Chiefs, though, and the whole thing came off. The Chargers will try something different Sunday night against the Bears.
“As long as it’s not my right hand,” Herbert told Chargers reporters this week, “I think we’re OK.”
Bears fans know the difference — Justin Fields still isn’t throwing a football almost two weeks after dislocating the thumb on his right hand.
With or without the glove, though, Herbert hasn’t looked like himself since the injury. His 653 passing yards in his last three games — the Chargers had a bye after beating the Raiders — are the fewest of any three-game span in his NFL career. His 57.1 completion percentage and 75.9 passer rating are both the second-worst three-game marks he’s ever had.
“It’s tough because we haven’t been at our best,” Herbert said. “We have to be realistic and be real about it — I know we have the abilities to play some really good football.”
But what if Herbert at his best still isn’t good enough? What if the size, arm strength and composure that many around the league drool over isn’t enough to lift his franchise from the primordial ooze of mediocrity? What if “Charger-ing,” or losing games in the final seconds in increasingly ridiculous ways, is too strong a force even for a rocket-armed quarterback?
That same question might well be asked of the Bears’ 2024 quarterback if they draft first overall, using the Panthers’ choice or their own to take USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye. Landing a franchise quarterback is the fastest way to turn your franchise around — but what if that’s not enough? Decades of dysfunction can become a heavy lift for even the best pro prospects.
Shockingly, Herbert’s career winning percentage as a pro is one game under .500.
Amazingly, he’s made the playoffs once. When he did, he posted an 84.7 passer rating last year — and the Chargers blew a 27-0 lead to lose to the Jaguars.
His Chargers are 2-4 this season, which is not the record they hoped for when they gave Herbert a five-year, $262.5 million contract extension in July that made him, briefly, the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history.
His resume, though, falls far short of the other quarterbacks who got new deals this year.
The Bengals’ Joe Burrow (5 years, $275 million) has been to a Super Bowl, and so has the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts (5 years, $255 million). The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson (5 years, $260 million) is 1-3 in the postseason, never posting a passer rating above 78.8, but is 50-18 in the regular season since joining the league. His winning percentage during that span trails only that of the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, who restructured his contract in September to give him $210.6 million over the next four years, the largest salary ever over that span. Mahomes, of course, has won two Super Bowls, two MVP trophies and two Super Bowl MVPs.
Herbert has never faced the Bears, though cornerback Jaylon Johnson matched up against him twice when the two were in the Pac-12. Johnson said the former Oregon quarterback can “throw the ball 100 yards,” scramble, use pinpoint accuracy and get passes to his playmakers on time.
“To me,” he said, “there’s not anything that he can’t do.”
There’s one thing: winning consistently. And that’s just as damning of the franchise as it is the quarterback.