Three seconds remained on the clock when Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert trotted to the sideline. Herbert had fired a fourth-down pass into the end zone that was ruled incomplete, finally ending his Sunday and any hopes of a miracle comeback.
It would have been the first time in NFL history that a team overcame a 28-point deficit in the final minute. The heroic effort by Herbert was worth a shot, right?
Anytime you can risk the health of your franchise quarterback for no reason, you’ve got to do it. In a 38-10 loss to the Jaguars, the Chargers and their second-year coach, Brandon Staley, showed why they continue to be a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Herbert, listed as questionable all week with a rib injury, surprisingly started the game and stunningly finished it by leading a 14-play, 64-yard drive that took nearly five minutes off the clock. It was a completely meaningless drive and crazy that he still was on the field.
“It was insane,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “He’s out there chucking the ball around and taking hits in a game they have no chance of winning. If anything is going to hold back that Chargers team, it’s that coach. What the hell are they doing?”
The Chargers are doing what they usually do, which is underachieving (and suffering injuries, with Joey Bosa banged up and left tackle Rashawn Slater now reportedly out for the season). A case can be made Staley is coaching the league’s most talented roster, but some of his decisions are head scratchers. Herbert said he wanted to stay in the game to show he was not quitting on the team. That’s a noble gesture, but that’s also when a coach needs to step in and force his quarterback to take a seat to protect his health.
The Jaguars were posted as 7-point underdogs Friday morning when the line started to crash and moved to 3. It was presumed that Herbert, who was not practicing, wasn’t going to play and backup Chase Daniel would get the start. About an hour before the game, when it was reported Herbert was cleared by doctors and would start, the line moved back to 6.5.
“It was good for us,” Murray said. “We had guys laying 3.5, 4 and 4.5 points when news came out he was playing, and we were taking Chargers money-line action. We ended up doing pretty well on the game.”
The blowout loss was an embarrassment for the Chargers (1-2). The Jaguars stopped an 18-game road losing streak, and the 28-point win in Los Angeles was their largest on the road since 2001.
What we have learned is the AFC West is not the toughest division in the NFL top to bottom. Aside from the Chargers’ mess, the Chiefs (2-1) went down to defeat in Indianapolis, the Broncos (2-1) have a pair of ugly wins and the Raiders are the only 0-3 team in the league.
“I thought the AFC West was going to be incredible,” Murray said. “I thought it was going to be historically good. I was as guilty as anyone.”
I also was apparently wrong about the strength of the AFC West, but I did bet on Jacksonville for the second week in a row -- more on that later as we look at nine more things to learn from Week 3:
Russell Wilson is showing no signs of greatness
It was a big deal in March when Denver traded five draft picks (two first-rounders) and three players to Seattle for Wilson. On Sept. 1, the Broncos handed their new quarterback a five-year, $245 million contract extension. Is it too soon to say the team should have some regrets?
After taking four sacks and leading the offense to nine points in an 11-10 victory over the 49ers, Wilson promised “greatness” is coming soon. According to StatsByStats, the Broncos are the only team in the past 30 years to win a game despite having at least eight more three-and-outs than their opponent (Denver had nine and San Francisco had one).
VSiN analyst Michael Lombardi, a former NFL executive, tweeted what NBC commentators Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth were not saying: “Why can’t they say Wilson is playing bad? It’s painful to watch.”
The Broncos rank 30th in the league in scoring at 14.3 points per game.
“Russell Wilson is not the player he was,” Murray said. “But I don’t want to pretend like he can’t rebound.”
The winless Raiders are already in a must-win situation
Three strikes and the Raiders are almost out of playoff contention in September. For a team that won 10 games last season and made two bold offseason moves -- hiring coach Josh McDaniels and signing free-agent wide receiver Davante Adams -- it’s getting ugly early.
After a 24-22 loss at Tennessee, McDaniels emerged from a closed-door meeting with Raiders owner Mark Davis and said, “Nobody likes losing. We all feel (like crap).”
The coach and quarterback typically take most of the blame, but the team’s problems run deeper than McDaniels and Derek Carr. The defense has been disappointing. The Raiders are 0-3, and the teams that beat the Raiders are 0-6 in their other games.
“The Raiders are in complete desperation mode,” Murray said.
Las Vegas opened as a 2-point home favorite against Wilson and the Broncos in Week 4, and I’m already on the Raiders as my first bet of the week.
Jimmy G is not Joe Montana
The unexpected return of Jimmy Garoppolo as the 49ers’ starting quarterback was celebrated by many last week. The theory is that San Francisco has a higher ceiling — a Super Bowl ceiling — with the veteran rather than with second-year quarterback Trey Lance, who went down to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2.
Garoppolo was as bad as Wilson in Sunday’s debacle in Denver. In the third quarter, Garoppolo casually stepped out of the back of the end zone before throwing a lazy pass that was picked off and returned for a touchdown. Garoppolo was lucky the Broncos got the safety to cut their deficit to 7-5. Garoppolo will have better days, but this is not Joe Montana making a comeback.
NFL coaches will never stop making bad decisions
Nathaniel Hackett, the Broncos’ first-year coach, has become a punch line for his poor clock and game management decisions. Misery loves company, and Hackett has plenty of it around the league.
With the Lions leading 24-21 at Minnesota, Detroit coach Dan Campbell sent out kicker Austin Seibert for a 54-yard field-goal attempt. No intelligent observer could have thought it was a good idea. Of course, the kick drifted wide right with 1:10 to go, and the Vikings went 56 yards in 25 seconds to win 28-24. While being fitted for a dunce cap, Campbell said he regretted the decision.
On the bright side, the Lions are 3-0 against the spread and opened as 6.5-point home favorites against the Seahawks in Week 4.
Bill Belichick’s ATS trends are no longer relevant
The Baltimore-New England game was a Pros-versus-Joes showdown, with the betting public backing the Ravens laying 2.5 or 3 points. The so-called sharp players were on the Patriots, who had been home underdogs 19 times under Belichick and went 15-4 ATS in those spots. Now make it 15-5 and chalk one up for the public.
Mac Jones threw three interceptions, and Belichick’s defense had no answers for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who accounted for 325 total yards and five touchdowns.
Jones is out with an ankle injury, and DraftKings opened the Patriots as 11-point underdogs at Green Bay. If my point-spread records are correct, the Patriots are double-digit dogs for the first time since Week 4 of the 2020 season (a 26-10 loss at Kansas City) and for only the fourth time since 2001 in Tom Brady’s first year as a starter.
The lesson is to respect Belichick while also realizing he’s not the same and this is not his year. Still, it’s going to be tough for sharps to turn down New England + 11 this week, even with Brian Hoyer at quarterback.
Doug Pederson deserves some respect
Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, lost his first nine road starts before beating the Chargers. He passed for three touchdowns, took no sacks and left L.A. as a confident, much-improved quarterback.
Pederson, who coached the Eagles to a Super Bowl win in 2018 by upsetting Belichick, has had his critics. He deserves credit for Jacksonville’s sudden turnaround, which has something to do with Lawrence and a lot to do with an impressive defense.
The brief Urban Meyer era was an error, and changing a losing culture is a complex challenge. The Jaguars, who shut out the Colts in Week 2, are 2-1 and still have a long way to go, but they might be arriving. Pederson has already tied Meyer (2-11) on the Jaguars’ all-time wins list.
Jalen Hurts and the Eagles are the real deal
On a VSiN show in May, I started touting the Eagles as a good bet to win the NFC East. In the months since, my pro-Philadelphia commentary was almost always countered with skepticism about Hurts being a big question mark at quarterback. It was a fair point, although it’s important to keep an open mind and allow young quarterbacks (Lawrence included) time to grow up and get better.
Drew Brees and Peyton Manning did not immediately set the league on fire.
Hurts is a hard worker, he’s highly intelligent and has the skills to be a big-time player. On top of that, the organization made the right moves to surround him with playmakers. There will be some stubborn holdouts, but Hurts is converting many of his critics into believers. He’s third in the league with 916 passing yards for the 3-0 Eagles, who are 6.5-point home favorites against the Jaguars in Week 4. It’s not just about Hurts, however, because Philadelphia’s defense is the real deal as well.
Kyler Murray will run hot and cold, so buyer beware
I often play the angle of home dogs in divisional games -- such as the Panthers against the Saints -- but could not support the Cardinals getting 3.5 points against the Rams. I don’t believe in Murray or Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury, even after they wiped out a 20-point deficit to beat the Raiders (and my bet) in Week 2.
Murray can be good when he’s playing backyard football and scrambling to make plays. His body language is usually bad and he’s not as good without suspended receiver DeAndre Hopkins or when facing a team that knows how to defend him. Murray went 37-for-58 for 314 passing yards in a 20-12 loss to the Rams. The stats looked much better than his actual performance on the field.
Five of the nine home underdogs won straight up Sunday; only the Cardinals, Commanders, Jets and Patriots did not cover in that role.
The Bengals might be back, but we’ll know for sure Thursday
Joe Burrow was a solid bet to bounce back in Week 3, mostly due to facing the New York Jets. Burrow passed for three touchdowns as Cincinnati coasted to a 27-12 win. The Bengals looked like the safest play in the Circa Survivor contest, mostly because they were 0-2 and facing Joe Flacco and the Jets.
The AFC North is arguably the NFL’s best division. The AFC East has two elite teams, including the 3-0 Dolphins, who upset the Bills. The real test for Cincinnati comes Thursday, when the Bengals are 3-point home favorites against Miami. It appears to be another good spot to bank on Burrow.