Chargers look sluggish as Jaguars roll, can't blame loss on Justin Herbert's injury

For a moment on Sunday, the Chargers looked ready to rally behind their injured Pro Bowl quarterback.

Justin Herbert uncorked a 54-yard strike to Jalen Guyton to spark a second-half drive against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The big play stood in stark contrast to a sluggish first half that saw the Chargers fall behind 16-7 as Herbert played with fractured rib cartilage. But reality soon struck. Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater left with a biceps injury two plays later. The possession bogged down and ended with a field goal. And the Jaguars ran away with the game from there en route to a 38-10 victory.

At the end, Herbert piled up garbage-time stats while some wondered why the injured quarterback was still in the game.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, left, passes while pressured by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen during the second half of an NFL football game in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

At a glance, it was a stunning result for a Chargers team armed with Super Bowl hopes and playing at home against a Jaguars team that finished 2021 with the NFL's worst record. But maybe it shouldn't be all that surprising. That Jaguars are clearly much improved. Meanwhile, the Chargers are playing with a mountain of injury woes that extend beyond their hobbled quarterback and threaten to derail their season.

They started Sunday without Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen and cornerback J.C. Jackson, who were both sidelined with injuries. Before Slater left the game, Pro Bowl pass rusher Joey Bosa was ruled out with a groin injury suffered in the first half. It adds up to serious concerns for a team looking to compete in a stacked AFC.

But make no mistake. Herbert's injury threatens to linger and remain a significant problem of its own. The big-armed Pro Bowler looked little like himself in an inefficient first half that saw him average 5.9 yards per attempt, well below his career average of 7.6. The spectacular downfield plays that are the hallmark of his game were nowhere to be found.

His 54-yard pass in the third quarter provided hope that was quickly extinguished as the Chargers managed just three points after halftime. He finished the game completing 25-of-45 passes for 297 yards with a touchdown and an interception — far from the type of effort to fuel an MVP campaign.

Slater's absence can't be overlooked. Backup Storm Norton took his place, and Herbert almost immediately faced pressure from his blindside. Norton was flagged twice for holding as he repeatedly struggled to contain Jacksonville's pass rush.

Slater was reportedly in a sling after the game. Any extended absence on top of Herbert's lingering rib injury spells trouble for the Chargers offense. Especially if Allen remains sidelined with the hamstring injury sustained in Week 1.

And that's before addressing the defensive woes. Bosa is the Chargers' best pass rusher. Jackson is their best coverage man. It's going to be tough for them to compete as long as their top players remain hobbled.