The Los Angeles Chargers Week 14 matchup on primetime against the Miami Dolphins was a critical one for a number of reasons. Firstly and most importantly, the Chargers were going into the game 6-6, and in a position where they could only afford to lose one more game at best to keep their playoff hopes alive. But also, in a year where Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has finally broken out and Justin Herbert has had a seemingly shakier year at times, a small but loud tangent of viewers were starting to proclaim that Tagovailoa was better than Herbert.
The fact that the two were both selected in the top ten picks of the 2020 NFL Draft has not helped with this issue of competition (which Joe Burrow is also part of). However, a decisive win for the Chargers should firmly settle the issue – at least for now – of who is the better quarterback between Herbert and Tagovailoa.
Justin Herbert Wins Pivotal Matchup Against Miami Dolphins, Tua Tagovailoa
As explained earlier, Herbert has a bit of a shakier Year 3 than expected. Most of this has to do with him playing injured for nearly two months and his offensive coordinator forcing him to play an overly passive dink-and-dunk style of offense that does not really play to his strengths. Nevertheless, his stats have been down compared to the first two years because of those issues – and that has led to some cries of “overrated” from a loud minority, spearheaded in particular by a certain analyst who referred to Herbert as a “social media quarterback.”
Meanwhile, Tagovailoa, who had shown flashes but had overall struggled his first two years in the league, had finally broken out this year – helped out by a new and improved coaching staff, as well as the league’s most deadly receiving duo in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Make no mistake, Tagovailoa is a quite good quarterback himself and looks to have a promising career ahead of him as well. However, his skill-set is not quite on the same level as Herbert’s.
While neither quarterback probably cared about this “competition” and were just trying to get wins for their team’s sake, this was ultimately a war of attrition of sorts – at least for people debating about those top three quarterbacks in the 2020 Draft. The fact this game was flexed to primetime only amplified this atmosphere going into the game.
Herbert’s Best Game of the Year?
Justin Herbert came out firing early and often. He was seemingly helped out by the return of Mike Williams, and thus he had Williams and Keenan Allen play a whole game together for the first time this year. But either way, Herbert appeared as confident with his throws (even while scrambling, which he did plenty of) and as in control of the offense as we have seen all year. Completion after completion on third down, into tight windows that even had Allen looking back at one point seemingly wondering how in the world his quarterback just made that throw, and the one touchdown pass to Williams in a place where only his receiver could get it.
Mike Will score the TD ‼️ @darealmike_dub
📺: #MIAvsLAC on NBC
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/Fjz0sbDEsG pic.twitter.com/aJSY28EUpi
— NFL (@NFL) December 12, 2022
Herbert finished 39-for-51 for 367 yards with 7.2 yards per attempt and arguably his best performance of the year. While he has looked more like himself for a month, his only other performance this year that looks this good was Week 1 before the injury happened. Having his normal complement of receivers surely did not hurt. Yes, there was still “dink-and-dunk” stuff involved, but there was still more pushing the ball down the field (albeit slowly) as opposed to three-yard checkdowns and screen passes that go nowhere.
A Team Effort
While Justin Herbert was excellent, the defense played just as much of a role. Brandon Staley had possibly his best defensive gameplan of the year, and the defense balled out despite missing multiple starters including Derwin James and Bryce Callahan. Michael Davis in particular had a great game, holding his own against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, only giving up one big play due to tripping. The Chargers defense clamped down on the Dolphins offense and held them to 17 points, with one of the two Dolphins touchdowns being an anomaly of luck involving Hill scooping up a fumble and running with it.
Tagovailoa finished 10-for-28 with 145 yards and 5.2 yards per attempt – one of his worst games of the year. Again, he is a quite good quarterback as well – but the difference between him and Herbert as passers was quite clear in this game.
After a bizarre loss to the Las Vegas Raiders last week, the Chargers have gotten back on track with a win over a fellow AFC playoff contender and are now 7-6. Next up they have the Tennessee Titans, who have lost three in a row but are still probably the toughest opponent remaining on the schedule. As previously stated, they can probably only afford to lose one more game at best. A win over the Titans would put them in a more comfortable spot with three easier games to finish the season.
For now, the Chargers have made a statement win – a statement that they are, in fact, still a playoff contender despite everything that’s happened this season. And Herbert also had a performance that should put an end to the “Herbert vs Tagovailoa” debate for now. In other words, this is as good a weekend as the Chargers and their fans have had all year.
Embed from Getty Images