Chargers lose Justin Herbert to injury, game to Broncos that ends playoff thoughts

A largely uninspired Sunday afternoon for the Chargers turned even more so when they lost Justin Herbert in the second quarter to a fractured right index finger.

Herbert left the game late in the second quarter and did not return as Easton Stick finished out a 24-7 loss to Denver at SoFi Stadium.

Herbert suffered the injury to his right hand when he was hit after throwing a pass. Chargers coach Brandon Staley confirmed the nature of the injury after the game.

The Broncos repeatedly pressured the Chargers’ quarterback, sacking him four times through the game’s first two quarters.

The loss dropped the Chargers to 5-8 and likely ended whatever limited playoff chances remained for a team that has vastly underachieved this season, leading to wide-spread speculation of sweeping changes in the coming months.

Late in the third quarter, chants for Staley’s firing could be heard.

Staley is in his third season — with a record of 24-23 — and took the Chargers to the playoffs last year. But his team blew a 27-0 lead at Jacksonville in the wild-card round and lost 31-30.

General manager Tom Telesco also has been under fire of late. He’s in his 11th year, with his teams winning only two playoff games.

The expectation remains that ownership will allow the rest of the season to play out before making any decisions. But the Chargers certainly are performing like a team in need of a significant reset.

Herbert finished Sunday nine of 17 for 96 yards, finding favorite target Keenan Allen only one for three yards before departing.

In a Week 4 victory over Las Vegas, Herbert broke the middle finger on his left hand but was able to continue playing without missing any time.

Stick, a fifth-round pick in 2019, entered Sunday with only two snaps of NFL regular-season experience. Both of those came during 2020.

Without Herbert, the Chargers had little chance of coming back against Denver, though Austin Ekeler did score on a three-yard run to make it 17-7 with 10:37 left. A 57-yard Stick connection with Quentin Johnston set up the touchdown.

Even with Herbert, the problems started early when a dropped pass by Allen helped stall their opening drive.

The offense then failed to convert a terrific scoring chance when an interception by Michael Davis set up the offense with first down at Denver’s 13-yard line.

The Chargers advanced to the six-yard line and faced fourth-and-three. Herbert passed in the direction of Gerald Everett in the end zone but the ball slipped through the tight end’s hands.

Up 10-0 at halftime, the Broncos stretched their advantage to 17-0 when Russell Wilson hit Courtland Sutton for a 46-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.

Denver improved to 7-6 by winning for the sixth time in seven games. The Broncos opened the year 1-5 and gave up 70 points to Miami in a Week 3 loss on the road.

Their fortunes have greatly changed, however, as the Chargers have sunk toward the bottom of the AFC.

Denver took a 7-0 lead on a five-yard run by Javonte Williams with 4:55 remaining in the first quarter.

The score came on the first play after Herbert was intercepted by Broncos’ edge rusher Jonathon Cooper, who grabbed the ball out of the air after it was deflected by linebacker Baron Browning.

Denver went up 10-0 at halftime on a Will Lutz 23-yard field goal in the final 10 seconds of the second quarter.

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