Chargers Took a Big Step Forward This Season, But ‘It Wasn’t Enough’

“Snap good. Hold good. And … Raiders in. Chargers out. Steelers in.”

That was the succinct summation from NBC’s Al Michaels as Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson booted a 47-yard field goal as time expired in overtime to give the Raiders a 35-32 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on January 9.

With Raiders players celebrating the organization’s second playoff berth since three straight from 2000-02, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was left standing on the sidelines at Allegiant Stadium in disbelief. The 23-year-old did all he could that evening, throwing for 383 yards and three touchdowns on a career-high 64 attempts, including a 12-yard TD to Mike Williams as time expired to force OT.

Even though the Chargers lost three of four down the stretch to finish the campaign at 9-8 for their first winning season since 2018, Herbert remains optimistic heading into the offseason. 

He finished the year second in the NFL with 5,014 passing yards and third with 38 passing touchdowns as Los Angeles boasted the league’s fifth-highest scoring offense (27.9 points per game).

“We got so close but we still have so much more room for improvement and so many places we could get better at,” Herbert says. “I felt we took a big step forward, but at the same time it wasn’t enough. Only one team’s going to be happy at the end (of the season), and that’s going to be the Super Bowl winner. 

“It’s not going to be us this year, but I know that we’ve got the team and the staff to be able to give ourselves a chance. All we have to do is keep getting better, have a good offseason and get ready for work.”

While Herbert and his teammates won’t be suiting up for Super Bowl LVI this weekend, Derwin James, Rashawn Slater, Corey Linsley and Herbert returned to the scene of their season-ending heartbreak for the 2022 Pro Bowl on February 6.

Like he did a month prior, Herbert shined at Allegiant Stadium by throwing for 98 yards and two scores to lead the AFC past the NFC, 41-35, in the much more relaxed setting and atmosphere. He was named the game’s Offensive MVP, while Raiders’ pass rusher Maxx Crosby took home the game’s Defensive MVP honors.

“I thought it was a really cool experience,” Herbert says despite receiving some boos when he was announced as MVP. “I think the tough part about the Pro Bowl is that everyone wants to be playing in the Super Bowl, and for all of the guys playing in the Pro Bowl, their season’s over. It’s kind of a tough question to answer whether you keep working and you keep playing this game or whether you get ready for the offseason. 

“I think for a lot of guys, because it’s such a long season, guys are kind of ready to go into the offseason. At the same time you want to be healthy and you want to make sure everyone gets through that game safely.”

To rub more salt on the wounds from the 2021 season, Herbert and the Chargers have to watch the intracity rival Rams host the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13.

While he doesn’t have a favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, Herbert said he is happy the City of Los Angeles is not only able to host the NFL’s biggest game for the first time since 1993, but gets to enjoy one of their teams playing in it.

Regardless of the game’s winner, Herbert is gearing up for Year 3 on and off the field. Off the field, he’s partnering with Dr. Squatch to promote their organic soaps, deodorants, shampoos and conditioners—their Star Wars soap package was one of their items that initially caught his eye. 

On the field, continuing to grow and gain more familiarity with offensive weapons like Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler and Williams will only pay dividends moving forward. To help facilitate that growth, the Chargers hired former Akron head coach Tom Arth as pass game specialist. Arth reunites with Los Angeles head coach Brandon Staley, who previously worked for him at John Carroll University in Ohio. 

“Personally, one of the great things about heading into Year 2 of this offense is heading into Year 2 of this offense and having the same offense and coaches knowing what to expect,” Herbert says. “We have an entire year of film ready to go and ready to be watched at any moment. If we can continue working the ins and outs of our offense, especially with the guys we have on the outside who made big plays all year, I think we can do a lot of good things.”

NOTE: First appeared on Forbes SportsMoney

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