To appreciate how much pain he was feeling in that exact moment, consider this: With barely two minutes left and his Chargers down and desperate, Justin Herbert surrendered.
For one play, the team’s Pro Bowl quarterback was moved to forgo potentially running for a first down and instead flipped the ball into the turf.
That happened in the Chargers’ most recent game — Sept. 15 in Kansas City — after Herbert suffered what later would be diagnosed as fractured rib cartilage.
Now, here’s Herbert, eight days later, matter-of-factly dismissing his injury and the resultant agony it brought him.
“Football is a game where you play with a lot of discomfort,” he said. “I don’t think anyone ever really feels good. … Week in, week out guys are dealing with things. So it’s just part of the game, of just being tough and making sure that your body’s ready to go when you play.”
One snap after giving in to the pain, Herbert stood tall by hitting DeAndre Carter for a 35-yard gain to keep the Chargers alive in a game they’d eventually lose 27-24.
The question now is if Herbert can continue to persevere and make plays as his team faces the Jacksonville Jaguars at 1:05 p.m. Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
The Chargers designated Herbert as questionable on Friday after he was mostly a spectator during their final practice.
“I don’t know,” he said afterward when asked if he thought he’d play Sunday. “That’s a decision that we’ve got a couple of days left to make. … Whatever the plan is, I know that our team’s going to be prepared to do everything we can.”
Herbert not starting would be big news in that he has quickly emerged as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks and the main reason this team is considered a prime playoff contender after three years of missing the postseason.
Yet the Chargers also have a recent history of stability at the most important position in sports. Since the start of the 2006 season, only three players have started at quarterback for this franchise.
Philip Rivers was in there for 15 years and 240 games. Tyrod Taylor then started the 2020 season opener before Herbert took over for good a week later. That’s three quarterbacks over the span of 275 regular-season games.
On Sunday, if Herbert is unavailable, long-time NFL backup Chase Daniel will start, coach Brandon Staley said. In his 14th year, Daniel, 35, has five career starts, his most recent coming in 2019 with Chicago.
“I’ve had a lot of these crazy, unknown weeks,” Daniel said. “That’s sort of what it was this week. … I guess that’s part of the deal as a backup. You’re expected to go in and if you play, play well.”
The uncertainty surrounding Herbert comes the same week that a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by Taylor against a Chargers team doctor became public knowledge.
The doctor, David Gazzaniga, is being sued by Taylor because a 2020 pregame injection — meant to help the quarterback manage the pain from two fractured ribs — resulted in a punctured lung.
When Taylor was unable to play in that Week 2 game, Herbert replaced him minutes before kickoff and has been the starter since then.
Gazzaniga remains part of the Chargers’ medical team and was on the scene in Kansas City when Herbert was injured.
Herbert was asked Friday if he had any concerns over his treatment, given what happened with Taylor.
“I think every situation is different,” he said. “I mean, you have to take a look at what’s best for you. I’m certainly going to do everything I can to prepare, be ready to play on Sunday.”
If Herbert does play, he’ll do so after throwing in practice only on Thursday. He did not attempt any passes Wednesday or Friday.
“He looked good,” Staley said of that Thursday workout. “He’s tough. He doesn’t feel great by any means. But he was able to go out there and throw the football.”
The Chargers are waiting to see if the same is true Sunday.