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5 Takeaways: Herbert Plays Like Superstar, Bolts Defense Shuts Down Dolphins


The Bolts are 7-6 after a 23-17 primetime win over the Dolphins.

Here are five takeaways from the Chargers best win of the season.

1. Justin Herbert = superstar

Justin Herbert was among the last players to get into the Chargers locker room after Sunday night's win.

The Chargers quarterback had an on-field interview to do, which included getting a game ball for his showing on Sunday Night Football.

As Herbert entered the Bolts locker room after a 23-17 victory, he greeted his teammates by emphatically spiking the ball.

Yes, the Chargers made a statement in Week 14. And it was Herbert who led the way.

Keenan Allen called him the best quarterback in the league.

"He's just getting started," Allen said. "He's about to blow this league away."

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley added: "Justin was fantastic tonight. He definitely led the way for our team, I thought that he played with great energy tonight that really affected his teammates in a positive way. He made a lot of winning plays, really good decisions throughout the game."

On this night, Herbert was the better quarterback on the field Sunday night. By far.

Well, scratch that. Herbert might have been the best player in either uniform in primetime.

The third-year pro completed 39 of 51 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown, with a passer rating of 102.3.

But the performance was more than the stat line. Herbert made plays when the Bolts needed them most, all while commanding the huddle and being a leader.

There he was, launching a 55-yard strike to Mike Williams on a throw that very few quarterbacks can make. Late in the game, Allen simply stuck a paw out near the sideline as Herbert fired a 100-mph fastball to him for nine yards and a first down.

He did it with his legs, too, moving around the pocket and also picking up 10 yards on third-and-8 on a game-sealing drive in the fourth quarter.

"Getting better," Herbert said of his play outside the pocket. "One of the great things about our team is that our receivers really understand the escape mentality of if the quarterback is on the move, where to run to, where to get your eyes and things like that. They have done a great job all year of that. Definitely something that we'll keep looking forward to doing."

Bolts safety Alohi Gilman was in the same rookie class as Herbert, and is also good friends with Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, as the two are both from Hawaii.

Gilman said he is happy to see Tagovailoa healthy and playing well. But he's glad No. 10 is in powder blue.

"Shoutout to Justin. He's a beast, we all know who he is," Gilman said. "Just amazing. As we all know, Justin is special."

Postgame, Herbert downplayed his performance and lamented missed red-zone chances. The Chargers went 2-of-6 in that area, meaning a six-point win could have been a lot larger if the Bolts had been more consistent near the end zone.

But when's he on like he was Sunday night, he's among the league's best players at his position.

Oh, by the way, he received a game ball from Staley after the win. He didn't spike that one.

"It was good to see," Herbert said. "I think we had a really good week of preparation and practice. The guys battled.

"We have dealt with a lot of adversity this year," Herbert added. "For us to be able to pick that win up, get some guys back, some guys getting healthy this week, it's been really good to see from our team."

2. The pass defense was incredible

Gilman knew on Wednesday afternoon that the Bolts defense would show something special Sunday night.

Sure enough, a unit that was without six preseason starters balled out in primetime and limited a high-flying Miami offense to just 219 yards — its second-lowest total of the season.

"It came from practice. Preparation. Early on during the week, the first day of practice, we all came together, brought some good energy," Gilman said. "Started dancing, handshakes, you know what I mean? Make it light.

"It's a game at the end of the day and when everyone is playing loose, that's when you're playing your best," Gilman added.

Staley also revealed that to be true.

"Going into this game, people would not have predicted that we played this way," Staley said. "But our defense, at practice, knew that they were going to play that way. If you were at practice, they knew that they were going to play that way."

The Bolts certainly played loose. But that also played fast and aggressive, something that showed up right away.

On the first play of the game, Gilman knocked away a deep pass for Tyreek Hill. One play later, Michael Davis flew across the field to force another incompletion.

Tagovailoa's first three passes fell incomplete as the Dolphins went three and out.

The tone was set.

"We have the best pass defense in the league, so we're going to play like that," Staley said.
Our guys came to play tonight. It was a hell of a gameplan by our defensive staff, led by [Chargers Defensive Coordinator] Renaldo Hill. All of the guys that played tonight were committed to playing a complete game.

"We knew that if we played the way that we played that it would look like that. It took everybody in order to do it. We have full respect for them," Staley continued. "[Dolphins Head Coach] Mike McDaniel is doing a hell of a job coaching that group. Tua is having a tremendous season. You just know that with [Jaylen] Waddle and Tyreek Hill, those two guys are a tough, tough, tough cover, and I say that with full respect because they've been doing it to everybody all year.

"We felt like that we were going to be ready to play tonight and that we would have a plan to win, that we would be aggressive and challenge them, and out guys were up for it tonight," Staley added.

While other defenses had played zone against the Dolphins and tried to contain Hill and Jaylen Waddle, the Bolts got physical with them.

Davis, Asante Samuel, Jr., and rookie Ja'Sir Taylor (in his first NFL start) were at the line of scrimmage all night in press coverage, unafraid to disrupt the speedy Miami offense off its course. Gilman and Nasir Adderley provided help on the back end.

"Don't let fast guys run down the field. When you let fast guys run down the field — with as fast as they are — and you let them run through zones with no one around, then it's going to turn into a track meet," Staley said. "Guess what, you're not as fast as they are. No one is. No one is as fast as they are.

"That's why you see them do to people what they do because they're really, really good," Staley added. "If you want a chance, you have to get closer to them."

The result was a master class by the Chargers defensive players and coaches.

Through three quarters, Tagovailoa had completed just four of his 18 pass attempts. His final stat line — thanks to four completions on the final drive — was 10 of 28 passes for 145 yards with a touchdown. His passer rating was 65.3, his second-worst of the season.

Hill had four catches for 81 yards, 60 of which came on one touchdown catch. Waddle had just two catches for 31 yards.

Entering Week 14, the duo had combined for roughly 13 catches for 196 yards per game this season.

And the Bolts did this without big names such as Derwin James, Jr., Joey Bosa and J.C. Jackson among others.

"We just came together. I feel like, as a crew, we just came together and this made it about us," Gilman said. "Made this about how we prepare each day, each week.

"Leading up to the game, I feel like everyone came in confident," Gilman added. "No one ever wavered. All these boys that stepped up, including myself, had a good time."

Drue Tranquill added: "To see probably our best defensive player in Derwin not be available. We've got four out of five starters on the defensive line down. Beat up at [slot corner], one of our better cover guys Bryce out against one of the better passing attacks in the NFL. Had young guys come in and just ball out. I think that speaks to the character of our locker room, the resiliency, the relentlessness and just the hunger to win. I think that showed itself tonight in a big-time game."

In the postgame locker room, Staley gave a game ball to the entire defense for the performance. It was well-earned.

3. Chargers show resiliency

Sometimes all you can do is shake your head.

Like when a fumble bounces around on the turf and ends up in the hands of perhaps the fastest player in the NFL and he promptly runs 56 yards for a touchdown.

"You kind of look at those plays and there's nothing you can do about it," Morgan Fox said. "It was a great heads up play by him to find the ball and get out, and it's just one of those that you chalk up to football. It happens."

With just under nine minutes left in the second quarter, the Bolts had a chance for a turnover when Gilman knocked the ball loose from running back Jeff Wilson, Jr.

But while a scrum ensued, the pigskin somehow ricocheted to Hill, who scampered down the right sideline untouched.

"It was a crazy play and it was a great heads up play by him to find the ball and get out,' Fox said. "Might be the fastest player in the league and he got out. Great heads up play by him and I think we just rallied around each other. I think everyone just kept playing fast and playing hard. It ended up looking good for us."

Staley said he was proud of the way his group bounced back from the fluky play.

"I think you bring up a good point because momentum is real in the NFL. We had played such a good game," Staley said. "Then, to have that type of play, you didn't want the air to come out of your team.

"Our guys came off and they were just so confident," Staley added. "That's just one of those things that I've never even seen before, but just keep it moving."

It was the same thing just past the midway point of the third quarter.

Miami had recorded just 25 passing yards when Davis, stride for stride with Hill, tripped and fell down. That left Hill all alone for a 60-yard score.

"[Davis] was in great position, just kind of falls [down]," Staley said. "The guys just came off to the side and we're like, 'Hey, we're fine.'

"I'm just telling you, our guys we're really connected tonight. They were seeing the game," Staley added. "They were making the adjustments. Then, they were helping each other out. I think that was able to sustain our defensive success throughout the game."

Miami's first touchdown came on one of the wildest plays of the year. And nearly 30 percent of the Dolphins total yardage came when a player fell down and left Hill alone.

But when the ball bounced the other way, the Bolts didn't flinch.

Get an inside look at the Chargers celebrating their Week 14, 23-17 win over the Miami Dolphins at SoFi Stadium!

4. In a playoff spot with 4 games left

Don't look now, but the Bolts have made their move to get into the dance.

Sunday night's win upped the Chargers record to 7-6, the same as the Jets, who lost in Buffalo in Week 14.

However, based on a better conference record 5-4 for the Bolts compared to 5-5 for the Jets … the Chargers now hold the seventh and final playoff spot in the AFC.

The status doesn't mean much to Herbert.

"We have to keep going," Herbert said. "If we want to get to where we want to go, it starts tomorrow. It starts with watching the film, fixing our mistakes. Looking at what we did well and correcting that.

"I think there is a lot of football left to be played," Herbert added. "We're going to get some guys healthy, get some guys back. We just have to keep rolling."

The Chargers now have four games left, three of which are against AFC opponents.

The Bolts host the Titans in Week 15 before playing in Indianapolis in Week 16. Then it's back home for a Week 17 matchup against the Rams before the season finale in Denver.

It won't be an easy road, but Sunday was a big step in the right direction for the Chargers.

"It was a big win, but we try to take it one game at a time," said guard Zion Johnson. "Obviously, as you get to the end of the season, theses last few games, every single one of them is huge.

"We're all fighting for the playoffs, especially at 7-6," Johnson added. "We're right in the middle of that fight. We're trying to take it one game at a time to make the playoffs."

Was Week 14 the Chargers best game of the season?

"I thought we saw signs of it today," Herbert said. "From all three phases, there were a lot of good things on offense, defense and special teams. Definitely some things to clean up and we'll get to that tomorrow."

5. All about effort

Off all the positive things from Week 14, one stood out to Staley.


"I really felt like the theme tonight, for me, was how hard we played," Staley said. "I think that if we play that hard in all three phases, and we do it with that spirit for one another, that we're going to be a tough team to play against.

"You can fix a lot of the mistakes that are natural in the NFL, but something that you can't fix is how hard you play," Staley added. "I think that we've played hard all season, but as these games get going down the stretch and they mean more and more, you have to come together and really put everything into these games. I felt like our team did that today."

Offensively, it was Austin Ekeler making things happen. Or Joshua Kelley continuing to run hard. Or pass catchers fighting for an extra yard and a first down. Or linemen battling in the trenches.

Defensively, it was Taylor making plays in his first NFL start.

"Ja'Sir Taylor, in his first start ever, a rookie — to go in there against that group — just cool as the other side of the pillow," Staley said.

It was a depleted defensive line getting the job done. Or linebackers roaming everywhere on the field.

And it was there on special teams, too, on DeAndre Carter's 23-yard punt return. Or Nick Niemann's gritty onside kick recovery with 90 seconds left.

On a night when the Bolts needed a strong performance, they got it from everyone.

"You just saw the confidence that our guys were playing with, how hard we played tonight," Staley said. "That's what I'm really proud of, how hard we played and how connected we were."

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