Chargers show crucial signs of growth during win vs. Dolphins

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Accolades keep accumulating for Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.

In the process of beating the Miami Dolphins, 23-17, on Sunday night, Herbert passed Andrew Luck for the most passing yards in a player’s first three seasons (13,056). Last year, the quarterback set NFL records for most passing yards and touchdown passes by a player in his first two seasons.

Herbert is off to a historic start to his NFL career.

‘He’s the best in the league,’ Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen said of Herbert. ‘(His) composure, confidence, play-making ability, size (and) everything.’

Herbert also has more 300-yard passing games than any player in his first three seasons after throwing for 367 yards and one touchdown against the Dolphins. When made aware of Allen’s compliment, Herbert made a typical humble response.

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“I really appreciate that high praise from him,” Herbert said. “I have so much respect for him as a competitor, teammate, person and friend. We are so thankful to have him part of this team. … He wants to be out there, he wants to be great and he definitely showed why he’s one of the best to ever do it.’

Herbert routinely deflects praise onto his teammates when asked about his own individual success. Most leaders adopt a similar approach. But the irony of Herbert turning the attention to his teammates is that he needs his teammates to step up and play at a high level for the Chargers to earn their first playoff berth since 2018.

Herbert can’t be Superman every week. Like every star, he needs help.

The Chargers went into Week 14 with the NFL’s 26th-ranked defense (371 yards per game) and 30th-ranked scoring defense (nearly 26 points per game). Playing without key defensive players in safety Derwin James and pass rusher Joey Bosa, the defense held Miami to 219 yards and 17 points.  

Toss in the fact that kicker Cameron Dicker converted all three of his field goal attempts and the Chargers collectively assisted their star quarterback versus the Dolphins, and aptly earned their first victory of the season against a team above .500. 

‘From all three phases, there were a lot of good things on offense, defense and special teams,’ Herbert said. ‘Saw a lot of good, positive signs (Sunday).’

The win moved the Chargers into the AFC’s third wild-card spot with four regular-season games remaining. If the New England Patriots beat the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night, the Patriots will be in the third wild-card position. Yet the Chargers have a soft schedule down the stretch. The Tennessee Titans, the Chargers’ Week 15 opponent, are the only team left on their schedule with a winning record.

If the Chargers win out or are victorious in three of their final four games, they should be in good position to make the postseason. Every game down the stretch has playoff implications.

‘We are in December right now. Every game is a must-win game. That’s just our mindset,’ Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray said. ‘We try to take it one week at a time and just win out every week. We’re trying to get on a roll and get into these playoffs.’

Week 14 was certainly a must-win game for a Chargers club desperately trying to reach the playoffs. The Chargers’ performance showed the squad is making late-season strides in their attempt to become a complete team and not be so dependent on Herbert.

‘We are trying to get all the momentum we can get. That’s the main thing,’ Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams said. ‘Build off this game, watch the film this week, get better from it and go out and ball (Week 15).’

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.

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