SPORTS DIGEST: Despite Herbert, Chargers fall to Green Bay, 23-20

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The Los Angeles Chargers continue to waste the talents of quarterback Justin Herbert. 

The Chargers dropped to 4-6 on the season Nov. 19 after losing 23-20 to the Green Bay Packers, who are quarterbacked by Jordan Love. There is no way a team quarterbacked by Jordan Love should beat a team quarterbacked by Justin Herbert, but it keeps happening. And there is plenty of blame to go around.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen dropped a sure touchdown pass from Herbert at the end of the first quarter and the Chargers had to settle for a field goal. Running back Austin Ekeler ended a fourth quarter drive by fumbling the ball away inside the 10-yard line.

And later in the fourth quarter, rookie wide receiver Quentin Johnson dropped a long pass from Herbert that could have been a touchdown (it would have definitely put the Chargers in position for a game-tying field goal). 

The defense didn’t help, either. After Herbert marched the Chargers 63 yards in 12 plays — eating up six minutes of the fourth-quarter clock in the process — for a 20-16 lead, the defense allowed Love to march the Packers 75 yards in six plays for the game-winning touchdown.

The big play on that drive was a 24-yard pass interference penalty on Asante Samuel Jr. that gave the Packers a first down on a third-and-20 situation.

Three plays later, Love hit Romeo Doubs with a 24-yard touchdown pass for the game-winning score.

The Chargers have now lost two games in a row three different times this season. They have lost to the Miami Dolphins by 2, the Tennessee Titans by 3, the Dallas Cowboys by 3, the Detroit Lions by 3 and now the Packers by 3.

Only the Kansas City Chiefs, who won 31-17 Oct. 22, have beaten the Chargers by more than 3 points. 

Good teams win close games so apparently the Chargers aren’t a good team. And that’s a shame because Justin Herbert is too good a quarterback to play for a bad team.

Against the Packers, Herbert completed 21 of 36 passes for 260 yards and 2 touchdowns. At least 3 of his incompletions should have been caught. He didn’t throw an interception.

He also led all ball carriers on both sides with 73 yards in 8 carries, a 9.1 yards average. And he’s still playing with a broken finger on his left hand.

Head coach Brandon Staley probably will pay the price for all of these close losses at the end of the season. The former defensive coordinator for the Rams, Staley has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but the team somehow comes up short at the end of most close games.

He was 9-8 in his first season in 2021, 10-7 last season and the Chargers were supposed to contend for the AFC Western Division title this season. Instead, they are floundering at 4-6, in last place behind the 7-3 Chiefs, the 5-5 Broncos and the 5-6 Raiders.

They host the Baltimore Ravens Nov. 26 in the Sunday night game that all of a sudden has become a must-win game. And the Ravens, at 8-3, have the best record in the AFC.

The schedule isn’t that difficult. Except for the Ravens and the season finale against Kansas City, the Chargers should be favored in their remaining 7 games. Four of those are at home.

The Chargers defense suffered a big blow when defensive end Joey Boza went down in the first quarter against Green Bay with a foot injury that is expected to keep him out for the next four games.

That puts more pressure on a defense that is prone to commit dumb penalties in crucial moments. That defense had trouble containing Jordan Love last week. It had better figure out a better way to handle Lamar Jackson this week or the Chargers will have their first three-game losing streak of the season.

And they won’t be able to bounce back from a 4-7 record in this year’s tough AFC.

A GOOD WIN: My high school football coach used to always say after a victory “It’s always good to win.”

That’s the way the Rams have to look at their 17-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks Nov. 19. It was no thing of beauty for sure, but when you are 4-6, every win looks good.

The Rams trailed 16-7 entering the fourth quarter, but scored 10 points down the stretch while holding Seattle scoreless, thanks to Jason Myers missing a 55-yard field goal with three seconds left.

The Rams used almost 10 minutes of the clock in their two fourth-quarter scoring drives.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford guided them 68 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown with 7:38 left to make it 16-14 Seattle. After defensive back Derion Kendrick intercepted a Drew Lock pass, Stafford moved the Rams 75 yards in 15 plays for a chip-shot field goal by Lucas Havrisiki with 1:34 to play for the winning margin. 

A banged up Geno Smith returned to try and rescue the Seahawks, but they could get no closer than the Rams 37 yard line and Myers field goal try was wide right.

Stafford, back in the lineup after missing a game with a thumb injury, wasn’t spectacular, completing only 17 of 31 passes for 190 yards, but he was solid when it counted in the fourth quarter, going 4 for 6 for 75 yards on the touchdown drive and hitting Puka Nacua with a 32-yard play to start the game-winning drive. 

The Rams’ schedule gets easier the rest of the way. Of their remaining seven games, only three are against teams with winning records Dec. 3 at home against the Cleveland Browns, the following week at Baltimore and Jan. 7 against the 49ers.

Their playoff hopes are dim, but an 8-9 record would probably surpass preseason expectations.

RIVALRY WIN: Who knows if UCLA’s 38-20 win over USC saved Bruins coach Chip Kelly’s job. After signing an extension after last season that runs through 2027, I couldn’t see UCLA firing Kelly unless the Bruins had a terrible season. 

With a game Nov. 25 against Cal remaining, the Bruins are 7-4 this season, giving Kelly 24 wins over the last three seasons and — even more important — two out of three over USC.

As big as the win was for UCLA, it was a bigger loss for USC, which has gone from College Bowl Playoff contender to rock bottom in seven weeks. 

The Trojans were 6-0 after beating what has turned out to be a real good Arizona team Oct. 7. Since then, they have lost five out of six, with a one-point win over Cal Oct. 28 the only thing between them and a .500 record.

It was not supposed to be like this for coach Lincoln Riley, returning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams and the rest of the Trojans, but they are a far cry from what was expected from the team that was ranked sixth in the nation when the season started.

The Trojans’ weaknesses are glaring. They don’t play well defensively against the run. They rush the passer well but the defensive backs are either blowing coverages, missing tackles or committing dumb penalties.

Offensively, the line is inconsistent and Williams spends too much of his time running for his life instead of finding open receivers.

The Bruins jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead, led 14-10 at halftime and then put the game away with two touchdowns within 16 seconds of each other early in the third quarter. 

The Trojans turned the ball over three times and had no running game whatsoever. Williams passed for 384 of the Trojans 387 yards in total offense.

The Bruins were balanced offensively, passing the ball for 155 yards and running the ball for 199 yards. They also were efficient on third down, converting 13 of 20 opportunities. The Trojans were 4 of 13.

Williams may have played his last game for the Trojans. He is expected to give up his last year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft next year and may sit out of whatever lower tier bowl game the Trojans are headed for.

At 5-4 in conference, the Trojans are in fifth place in the Pac 12, but with wins this week, Utah and UCLA can both tie them at 5-4.

UCLA will need to refocus for the Cal game Nov. 25 because the Bears need a win to become bowl eligible. The game is at 7:30 p.m. at the Rose Bowl and will be televised by ESPN.

SACRIFICIAL LAMB: Maybe Russell Westbrook wants to win more than anything. The veteran guard reportedly volunteered to come off the bench for the Clippers because it was obvious that things weren’t working with him and James Harden both starting in the back court.

Voila, the Clippers six-game losing streak ended and they have won two games in a row. Granted, the wins were against the 6-6 Houston Rockets and the 3-11 San Antonio Spurs, but they all count.

The Clippers defeated the Rockets 106-100 Nov. 17 in the first game with Westbrook coming off the bench. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Harden all scored more than 20 points. Westbrook scored 8 in 17 minutes. Harden led the team with 9 rebounds and 7 assists.

Against the Spurs Nov. 19, George scored 28, Leonard scored 21 and the Clippers strolled to a 124-99 victory.

Harden scored 13 points and added 10 assists against the Spurs in 28 minutes. Westbrook was one of six Clippers in double figures with 10 points to go along with 6 assists.

Terance Mann hasn’t done much offensively replacing Westbrook in the starting lineup, scoring 3 points in the two games, but the Clippers don’t need more scoring help, they need to play team basketball and Westbrook provides energy as well as scoring ability off the bench that was previously lacking.

With backup center Mason Plumlee out for a couple of months with a knee injury, the Clippers signed Daniel Theis off waivers from the Indiana Pacers to back up Ivica Zubac.

Theis made quite an impact in his second game with the team, scoring 19 points in 21 minutes off the bench against the Spurs.

Born in Germany, Theis has played with five teams in his seven seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Boston Celtics. He has averaged 7.6 points in 316 career games.