Justin Herbert had another 300-yard game and three more touchdown passes and provided the winning score with his feet.
A rookie in just his fifth NFL game, he led the Chargers in nearly every conceivable way Sunday and in a way that, not long ago, would have seemed inconceivable.
Herbert was the Chargers’ leading rusher, setting a franchise record for a quarterback, playing the same position that stout-armed, cement-footed Philip Rivers commanded for the previous 14 seasons.
A whole lot of Herbert and just enough of everything else lifted the Chargers to a 39-29 victory over Jacksonville at SoFi Stadium.
But for all his glaring examples of brilliance, all the highlights and moments of wow, Herbert impressed his head coach for an entirely different reason.
“The skill and the physical part of this … we know that he has that,” Anthony Lynn said. “I’m excited about the way he’s growing mentally and how his team is responding to him as a young leader.”
The Chargers needed all the leadership they could find to outlast a Jaguars team that entered having lost five in a row and now sits at 1-6, tied for the second-worst record in the league.
Against Jacksonville, they opened a 16-0 edge early in the second quarter before giving it all back and then some.
The Jaguars went ahead 21-16 and 29-22 in the third quarter before Herbert led the Chargers back by scoring 17 consecutive points over the game’s final 17 minutes.
“That was growth,” Lynn said. “We could have easily said, ‘Here we go again.’ I love the way the team fought back and took control of that football game.”
The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Chargers and was the first of Herbert’s career.
He finished 27 of 43 for 347 yards. His touchdown passes went to tight ends Donald Parham Jr. and Virgil Green, and wide receiver Jalen Guyton.
Parham has caught two passes in his career, both from Herbert and both for touchdowns. The connection with Guyton covered 70 yards. The two hooked up for a 72-yard score in Week 4.
“It’s an awesome feeling, especially with the way things have happened over the past few weeks,” Herbert said. “It’s good for us to go out and execute and play a full game.”
How good was the rookie Sunday? He eventually proved to be stunning on a day when, at times, he seemed shaky. Herbert missed on a handful of early passes but never backed off.
The Chargers wound up dominating in first downs (29-15) and total yards (484-294) and held the ball for nearly 10 more minutes.
With the game in doubt in the second half, Herbert guided the offense to scores on four consecutive possessions — three touchdowns and a field goal. It would have been five straight had Michael Badgley not missed a 48-yard field goal.
So instead of experiencing another gut-churning defeat, it was the Chargers who staged comebacks — from five and later seven points down.
“It takes four quarters, that’s for sure,” Herbert said. “The margin of difference between teams is so small in the NFL compared to college. … What we were able to do today was awesome.”
Along with his arm, Herbert bedeviled Jacksonville more than once with his feet. He had a 31-yard run — the longest for a Chargers quarterback since 1988 — on a read-option early.
In the second half, he scrambled once for 12 yards and a first down and then for 14 yards and another first down. He put the Chargers up for good with five second remaining in the third quarter with a five-yard touchdown run.
“Anytime you can force the defense to play 11-on-11, it gives us an advantage,” Herbert said. “It’s pretty fun to run the ball too.”
He finished with nine carries for 66 yards, the most in a single game for a Chargers quarterback.
Lynn said he appreciated Herbert’s all-around effort and indicated Herbert’s teammates did as well. But Lynn said protecting the player the Chargers drafted No. 6 overall in April is also something to be appreciated.
“A couple times there, I need him to get down,” Lynn said. “He put his shoulder down and he went over someone. The sideline kind of erupted when he did that. That’s the way he leads sometimes. But in this league, I want you to slide.”
Herbert survived and so did the Chargers, who avoided what would have been another big blown lead and a potentially season-snuffing loss.
“I’m relieved we got the win,” Lynn said. “But make no mistake about it, we are swimming upstream. It’s going to take a lot hard work and a lot of character to turn this thing around.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.