Justin Herbert Grade: C-
Given Herbert's lofty standards that he set for himself with a historic rookie season during the COVID year and even better follow up to begin year two, you could argue this was a D+ to D performance. But, with head scratching play-calling, one of his two interceptions coming on a drop, ongoing special teams woes, and a hampered Austin Ekeler, combined with having to try to play through Belichick's elite defensive schematics, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Like we saw at times last year with Shane Steichen at the play calling helm for Los Angeles, it was very conservative and damn-near timid at times. Which doesn't make a whole lot of sense with Herbert's arm and off schedule arm talent. Though the Chargers could certainly use more speed at wide out. Nonetheless, that doesn't excuse him for poor play.
The Matthew Judon led Patriot pass rush was as present as it's been in some time for New England. And unlike previous outings, Herbert didn't execute in the face of pressure. Particularly in the games teetering moment, when a timing mishap on the part of him and tight end Jared Cook came early in the fourth quarter. Herbert tried to hit Cook on what looked like a five yard button hook on a 3rd and 9 backed up deep in Bolt territory.
Yes, Cook could've had better awareness and looked for the rock earlier. But, the revenge-narrative-seeking safety Adrian Phillips' pick six that highlighted the day, came because Patriots rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore's push in the pocket forced an errant Herbert throw. It's was a bad read and bad time for a spastic, ill-advised, missed throw.
As aforementioned, the previous INT just before halftime was an Ekeler drop on a more than good enough ball in traffic after evading the rush. However, during that mid-game stretch in the second and third quarter, Herbert and the Chargers offense was absolutely dormant. And, Herbert was essentially gifted the touchdown early in the second prior, giving them a 14-7 lead with the explosive 75 yard run by Justin Jackson, with that nasty jump-cut to set it up. Jackson and the run game assisted Herbert all day with 8.2 yards per carry, hurting his grading criteria even further.
In the end, shocker alert: playing against Bill Belichick might diminish a young quarterback's great play. As Herbert's three worst starts have definitely come in his two Patriot matchups and the thrashing at the hands of Baltimore a couple weeks back.
It should be expected for a bright eyed QB with a still developing organization like the Chargers. So it's definitely an overreaction to take Herbert outside of the top three of the sub age 26 quarterbacks in the league along with Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen after today.
However, it's fair to say the likes of Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and Kyler Murray are much closer to Herbert in those rankings right now then we all perceived coming into the year and just a few weeks ago even. Though, Herbert's ability in a vacuum and ceiling combined with what he's already accomplished leads you to believe he'll still be out in front in that regard.
Expect Herbert to return to his normal, outstanding form next week versus the let's say less-than-stellar Nick Sirianni led 3-5 Philadelphia Eagles. As the Bolts push for a playoff spot along with the Patriots in a hot mess of an AFC.
Next, let's dive into Mac Jones' game grade.