What we learned from Chargers' win over Raiders on Thursday night

Justin Herbert shined as he’s done for all of his rookie campaign, while another former Oregon first-round pick, Marcus Mariota, came on in relief of an injured Derek Carr to put on an impressive performance, as well. AFC West rivals the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers played into overtime on a dramatic Thursday night, but it was Herbert who commanded the final spotlight — and highlight. Herbert’s quarterback sneak in overtime propelled the Chargers past the Raiders, 30-27.

Los Angeles Chargers 30, Las Vegas Raiders 27 (OT)

1) Justin Herbert seems to have dazzled since his first NFL snap and Thursday night hardly went off script. All is not lost in this Chargers season, as they have struck upon hope for the future and their franchise quarterback with Herbert. Though the Chargers (5-9) are headed toward a second-straight losing season, Herbert captained his second-straight game-winning drive and finished the game with a QB sneak. He’s made Bolts games entertaining watches and provided excitement for what may come for the franchise. The frontrunner for AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Herbert has been a first-season phenom, with an arm equal parts long and accurate. He reads defenses at a veteran level and commands the Bolts offense like an old pro. Herbert was scintillating through the air, throwing for 314 yards and two touchdowns — giving him 27 on the season and tying him with Baker Mayfield for the most in a rookie campaign. The Chargers ridiculously went conservative and away from Herbert’s golden arm in the second half, but after withstanding two missed Mike Badgley field goals and the Raiders taking a field-goal lead in OT, Herbert rallied them to victory. A 53-yard beauty of a throw to Jalen Guyton set up the game-winner, though it only came after Herbert fumbled into the end zone and was given a second shot at a game-winning sneak. He made good this time. Three touchdowns on the night and plenty of excitement to come. Herbert’s somehow made a disappointing Chargers season remain stirring. He was the star of the show on Thursday and should be for the Chargers for autumns to come.

2) Despite Marcus Mariota’s theatrics and all-around stellar play off the bench, the Raiders (7-7) were dealt a devastating loss upon this evening. The Raiders went into Thursday night with a new defensive coordinator because they fired the old one and no offensive coordinator because Greg Olson tested positive for COVID-19. They came out of Thursday night with a .500 record and still as the ninth seed in the AFC playoff race. Mathematically, the Raiders haven’t left the playoff hunt, but realistically, their postseason hopes were expunged by Herbert’s OT score. It’s the Raiders’ fourth loss in their last five games and they’re only one of the most infamous play calls ever away from a five-game losing skid. Head-scratching play calls by the Chargers along with two missed field goals seemed to serve up the Raiders for a much-needed win, but it wasn’t to be. Injuries, COVID-19 issues aplenty, usually horrendous defense and a sputtering running game have plagued Las Vegas this year, which began with such promise. The Raiders haven’t made the postseason since 2016 and, barring a miracle, they’ll be home for the playoffs once again in 2020.

3) Perhaps any win is cause for celebration, but puzzlement still prevails as it relates to the Chargers coaching and special teams despite the victory. Two go-ahead field goal attempts inside the final four minutes and, of course, the Chargers missed them both. Badgley’s 51-yard attempt with 53 seconds to go in regulation had the distance, but fluttered left. Minutes earlier, it was a bad snap and a bad kick. With a tie ballgame with 3:38 left in the fourth after a bad no-call that should’ve been pass interference against the Raiders, Badgley attempted a 47-yard field goal. It was pulled left. This is the Chargers. Of course it was no good. Everyone knew it was going to be no good, because the Chargers are a tortured franchise when it comes to kicks going every which way but through the uprights when it matters most. It wasn’t all on the special teams though, as the fourth quarter played out as an indictment on the offensive play-calling. Herbert had just one pass attempt in the stanza. With Herbert slinging it and Badgley struggling, the Chargers went conservative and played to set up two field goal attempts gone awry. It was puzzling play-calling to be kind that led to more special teams struggles. Badgley’s missed an NFL-high nine field goals. The football gods can be mean. And the Chargers’ game management can be confounding.

4) On just their second offensive drive of the game, the Raiders were hobbled when quarterback Derek Carr sustained a groin injury. Enter Marcus Mariota, who’s still got some spring in his step and potential in his play. The former first-rounder played for the first time as a Raider and immediately breathed new life into the stagnant squad. Playing against the most recent Oregon Duck drafted in the first round, Mariota looked every bit the guy who was taken second overall by the Titans in 2015. Mariota extended plays with his legs and troubled the Bolts as he completed 17-of-28 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown, while also invigorating the Silver and Black’s stumbling rushing attack with a game-high 88 yards on nine carries. Mariota piloted the Raiders back from a 24-17 deficit, his two-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter leading to overtime, where he pushed Vegas ahead on a Daniel Carlson field goal. But the Raiders defense couldn’t make a stop. Mariota’s storybook night should’ve ended in a victory, but it wasn’t meant to be. With two games left, if Carr’s groin allows him to play in Week 16, there might be a decision to be made as to who gets the start. Nonetheless, while the Raiders’ playoff hopes are done for all intents and purposes, Mariota showed Thursday that he isn’t.

5) Turns out Darren Waller’s pretty phenomenal even when Carr’s not throwing him passes. The Raiders’ top pass catcher and Carr’s favorite target was magnificent once more, failing to miss a beat when Mariota took over. Waller hauled in a 35-yard TD from Mariota in the second quarter to ignite the Raiders offense and another huge individual showing. Waller had game-highs of nine catches and 150 yards and showed once again when he’s at his best, he’s one of the best. All the more astounding is how much at times Waller carries the passing game with the Raiders offering so little help in the receiving corps for much of the season.

Most Rec Yards in 3-Game Span by TE
Single Season, All-Time

LV Darren Waller 2020 425
NO Jimmy Graham 2013 413
HOF Shannon Sharpe 1996 413
PHI Pete Retzlaff 1965 406
NE Rob Gronkowski 2017 397 https://t.co/kyqpQahU7T

6) The AFC West is absolutely loaded with talent at the tight end position. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is the best in the league this season and the Raiders’ Waller has taken the No. 2 spot. But the Broncos’ Noah Fant is emerging and Chargers fifth-year tight end Hunter Henry has had a quietly good season. Thursday was Henry’s 14th game of the season, which is a new career-high for the oft-injured Bolt and he’s produced a career-high in catches for a campaign and will likely do the same in yards. Playing on the franchise tag, Henry is producing even if he’s not making a whole lot of noise. Among the myriad monumental offseason decisions awaiting the Chargers, what they do with Henry is one of them. He’s been a stable presence for a dynamic rookie QB.

7) Joey Bosa signed one heckuva big contract before the season and yet still plays every play like it’s his last. He’s limping every time you see him out there, but he clearly makes the Chargers defense so much better when he’s on the field. Still, as much as Herbert is this team’s franchise QB, Bosa is its franchise defender. He was getting evaluated for a concussion late in the game and hobbled prior to that much as he’s been all year. It might be time to sit Bosa whether he wants to or not.

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