National

NFL Power Rankings: We need to hold Justin Herbert accountable for Chargers' failures

It's not like Justin Herbert hasn't had opportunities to lift his team this season.

The Los Angeles Chargers have lost seven games. In six of those losses, the Chargers had at least one possession in the fourth quarter or overtime trailing by seven or fewer points.

Week 1: Trailing the Dolphins 36-34, the Chargers' drive lost a yard and they turned it over on downs with 55 seconds left.

Week 2: The Chargers got the ball first in overtime against the Titans. They went three-and-out without getting a yard and Tennessee won it on its first possession.

Week 5: Dallas led 20-17 when the Chargers got the ball for one final drive. On the third play, Herbert threw an interception.

Week 6: In a 14-point loss to the Chiefs, the Chargers had four second-half possessions trailing by seven points. They had an interception and three punts.

Week 11: After the Packers took a 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter, the Chargers had two drives. On the first they lost 10 yards and punted. On the last one they got one first down, then turned it over on downs.

Week 12: After Justin Tucker missed a field goal, the Chargers trailed 13-10. They got one first down but turned it over on downs with 1:54 left after getting to Baltimore's 46.

It's not like John Elway came through on every two-minute drill, or Michael Jordan hit every game-winning shot. But quarterbacks are judged on how often they lift their teams to wins. Well, most quarterbacks are judged that way.

Herbert seems to get a pass. He had a very good rookie season and has been mostly immune from criticism since. It's always someone else's fault when they don't win. It's Brandon Staley answering questions about his job security, rarely an examination of Herbert's role in the Chargers' 4-7 record. How many times have you heard Herbert ripped for his role in the Chargers blowing a 27-0 lead to the Jaguars in last season's playoff heartbreak? Warren Moon didn't get that kind of a pass when the Oilers blew it against the Bills.

Herbert is a good quarterback. He's also a $262.5 million quarterback leading a 4-7 team. The Chargers are 29-31 in his starts. The problem last season with Herbert's underwhelming season was supposed to be offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who was fired. This season the issue is Staley, or injuries around Herbert. It's never Herbert, whose highlights are impressive and definitely outnumber his game-winning plays. The "social media QB" jabs have been overblown, but it's not like there's no truth to it.

Staley probably isn't a good coach. The Chargers do miss Mike Williams and Josh Palmer (though they have Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen and used a first-round draft pick on Quentin Johnston). Herbert doesn't have anything to do with a defense that is among the worst in the NFL. But other quarterbacks aren't judged by bad luck in close losses or the situation surrounding them. Ask Kirk Cousins about that. Guess how often we'd ooh and ahh Dak Prescott's highlights if the Cowboys were 4-7 and he had failed to come through in game-winning drive situations in six of those losses.

Herbert is good. He did everything he could in a close loss to the Lions, and came through with a game-winning drive at the Vikings, his only fourth-quarter game-winning drive this season. He threw a great pass in the two-minute drill against the Packers that Johnston dropped. He's not solely responsible for his team's record because no quarterback is. But Herbert was put in the elite category long ago and it has rarely been reexamined. Tua Tagovailoa was derided as a bust because he was drafted ahead of Herbert, yet you haven't heard too often about Tagovailoa currently having the best season either of them has had in the NFL.

Herbert is not having a terrible season. He is putting up good numbers. His stats in his fourth season put him on a Hall of Fame path. But it's also worth asking what responsibility he has in the Chargers' disappointing record. Every other quarterback is judged that way.

Here are the power rankings after Week 12 of the NFL season:

32. Carolina Panthers (1-10, Last Week: 32)

It's hard to say Frank Reich deserved more time as Panthers head coach. His team was bad and when the offense didn't get any better with him calling plays (and got worse in some ways) then it was clear he'd be fired either during the season or right after. It happened Monday. But ultimately the Panthers' failure falls on team owner David Tepper. He doesn't have Dan Snyder's off-field baggage or quite the same level of horrible PR with the fans and media, but he has the same pattern of impatience and meddling that led to decades of losing in Washington.

31. New England Patriots (2-9, LW: 31)

The Patriots need talent. It might be the worst roster in the NFL. And they drafted a kicker in the fourth round. And that kicker, Chad Ryland, missed a 35-yard field goal that would have tied the game in the final seconds Sunday. Is there a single positive to take out of this Patriots season?

30. Arizona Cardinals (2-10, LW: 29)

The Cardinals' defense was atrocious against the Rams. Their defensive issues will be a part of the conversation if they get a top-two draft pick. Do they go quarterback or stick it out with Kyler Murray, using that second pick in a trade to gain more picks that could help the defense?

29. New York Giants (4-8, LW: 30)

Tommy DeVito has played well the past two weeks. He looked horrible in his first two games but it has been a complete turnaround since. That probably says something about Brian Daboll's ability as an offensive coach. If DeVito continues to play well he could parlay this stretch into a long career as a backup, and if it's good enough maybe even get another shot to start.

28. Washington Commanders (4-8, LW: 27)

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was fired after a 45-10 loss to the Cowboys and while that was not surprising, it's kind of strange that Ron Rivera wasn't fired. Firing Del Rio gives Rivera more time but for what reason? Maybe he saves his job over the last five games but that seems unlikely. And if Rivera is fired during this season but after this week's bye, it costs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy the fairest chance possible at showing what he can do as a head coach over the rest of the season.

27. Tennessee Titans (4-7, LW: 28)

The Titans had a nice pass rush and took Panthers top receiver Adam Thielen out of the game, which hasn't happened much for the Titans' defense this season. It came against the horrible Panthers but any steps forward are welcomed.

26. Chicago Bears (4-8, LW: 26)

Getting DJ Moore has been huge for the Bears. He was the best player on either offense Monday, with 11 catches, 114 yards and a clutch 36-yard catch to set up a game-winning field goal. He's just 26 years old. The Panthers felt they had to do whatever they had to do to get the first overall draft pick to take a quarterback, but they should regret parting with Moore.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7, LW: 22)

Amid the disappointment of another loss, it was good to see Rachaad White get 100 yards rushing and the great Mike Evans catch another two touchdowns. But the season is slipping away fast.

24. New York Jets (4-7, LW: 19)

In Nathaniel Hackett's past 19 games as a playcaller, his offenses have scored one or fewer touchdowns 16 times according to Andrew Mason of DenverSports.com. Hackett was hired when the Jets were trying to land Aaron Rodgers, but Hackett can't return next season even if Rodgers makes it a condition on his return.

23. Los Angeles Chargers (4-7, LW: 21)

In four games since the Chargers lost Josh Palmer to a knee injury, first-round draft pick Quentin Johnston's role increased and he responded with nine catches for 76 yards. This has been a lost season and he has been such a non-factor, it's fair to wonder if he can become a viable starter in the future.

22. Las Vegas Raiders (5-7, LW: 20)

The Raiders faded after a good start, and the next thing Antonio Pierce and his staff need to show is that they can make adjustments as the game goes on (something Jason Fitz discussed when we got together for our "Sunday Night Blitz" podcast). I still like what I've seen from the Raiders, even with the fade against the Chiefs after taking a 14-0 lead. But Pierce needs to win more games.

21. Los Angeles Rams (5-6, LW: 25)

The Rams, somehow, aren't dead in the playoff race. They're unlikely to make it, but this has still been a good job by Sean McVay in what was supposed to be a full-blown rebuild season. Having a quality head coach like McVay gives the Rams a chance to rebuild very quickly. And maybe even make the playoffs this season.

20. Minnesota Vikings (6-6, LW: 14)

I'm not sure how to process that Vikings loss. Their offense was beyond inept. Joshua Dobbs has been a great story this season but he was inexplicably bad on Monday night. It's possible it was just a one-off performance and Dobbs will bounce back, but it seemed like perhaps the clock just struck midnight.

19. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6, LW: 18)

Jake Browning wasn't awful in his first start (19 of 26, 227 yards, one TD, one INT), but the Bengals scored 10 points and lost at home. Even if Browning plays OK the rest of the season, it's hard to see Cincinnati being a factor the rest of the season. It's hard to believe that the Bengals and Bills won't make the playoffs, but it seems like that's where we're headed.

18. New Orleans Saints (5-6, LW: 16)

The Saints had 444 yards on offense Sunday and didn't score a touchdown. The Saints have had too many games like that this season. That's a flaw of Derek Carr, who isn't producing like a $150 million QB has to.

17. Atlanta Falcons (5-6, LW: 24)

The Falcons don't deserve to be in the playoffs but they play in the NFC South and if the season ended today, they'd be in. It is encouraging they're getting the ball more to Bijan Robinson (19 touches, 123 total yards vs. Saints) and Drake London (91 of the team's 168 receiving yards) lately.

16. Indianapolis Colts (6-5, LW: 17)

Zaire Franklin and E.J. Speed played 117 of a possible 120 snaps at linebacker Sunday. They combined for 13 tackles and the Colts won again. The Shaquille Leonard release was surprising, but part of why his playing time had been lessened was that the Colts were in good shape at linebacker without him.

15. Green Bay Packers (5-6, LW: 23)

How big was the Packers' win on Thanksgiving? They jumped up to a 55.4% chance to make the playoffs according to the DVOA odds. ESPN's FPI is a little more pessimistic, giving Green Bay a 43% chance. That's still good for a team that looked cooked a few weeks ago. Jordan Love's progress has been a revelation.

14. Seattle Seahawks (6-5, LW: 12)

The Seahawks are in trouble. Their next three games are at Dallas, at San Francisco and then they host the Eagles. They could be 6-8 in a hurry. Blowing that lead to the Rams two weeks ago was bad and it could cost Seattle a playoff spot.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4, LW: 15)

At least the Steelers finally outgained an opponent. This team is probably going to the playoffs, though it still doesn't look like a playoff-level team. However, maybe the Steelers can reach that level if the offense continues to grow after firing coordinator Matt Canada.

12. Houston Texans (6-5, LW: 11)

C.J. Stroud threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He led the Texans with 47 rushing yards and had a touchdown. He's the first rookie in NFL history with four straight 300-yard games according to NFL Research. The way MVP voting goes, Sunday's loss will hurt his case. That's ridiculous because Stroud was once again incredible.

11. Cleveland Browns (7-4, LW: 9)

It seems like the Browns might turn to Joe Flacco, with Dorian Thompson-Robinson entering the concussion protocol after taking a huge hit against the Broncos. Here's a spoiler: Flacco won't be the answer to the Browns' offensive issues. He had a 75.2 passer rating last season and it's unlikely he got better during an offseason on the couch at age 38.

10. Buffalo Bills (6-6, LW: 10)

Before Monday night's game, DVOA's playoff odds gave Buffalo a 14 percent chance of making the postseason. The Bills really needed that win over the Eagles, outplayed Philadelphia, had a big lead and gave it away. It's hard to tell if this is a really unlucky team or there's some fatal flaw that is causing the Bills to lose a bunch of games it has no business losing, but there's a good chance it costs them a postseason spot.

9. Denver Broncos (6-5, LW: 13)

Sunday's Broncos-Texans game is huge in the AFC wild-card race. Both teams are 6-5 and tiebreakers could matter by the end of the season. It's still absolutely wild to talk about the Broncos being in the AFC playoff picture, but they are. And if they win at Houston, it will really get interesting.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-3, LW: 8)

The Jaguars are nearly a lock to take the division after a big win at the Texans. Last year Trevor Lawrence was inconsistent early in the season and awesome in the second half. He hasn't been great this season but two weeks ago he had his best passer rating of 2023, and on Sunday he had his highest passing output with 364 yards. That's a really good sign for Jacksonville.

7. Dallas Cowboys (8-3, LW: 7)

Brandon Aubrey is a ridiculous story. He was a soccer player who, at age 27, took his shot as a kicker with the USFL's Birmingham Stallions. He played two USFL seasons, got noticed by the Cowboys and earned a roster spot. The 28-year-old NFL rookie has made all 22 of his field-goal attempts, which easily outdistances the old NFL record of 18 straight made FGs to start a career. That's a movie script.

6. Miami Dolphins (8-3, LW: 6)

Sunday was a big day for the Dolphins. When the Broncos won to move to 6-5, Miami got to shed the "they haven't beaten a team with a winning record" label. Since the Dolphins' next three games are against the Commanders, Titans and Jets, that's the only way it was going to happen in the next few weeks.

5. Detroit Lions (8-3, LW: 3)

The poor outing against the Bears didn't turn out to be a blip. The Lions have looked bad in two straight games, both at home against losing teams, and are lucky to be 1-1 out of it. It starts with being very sloppy with the ball and turning it over. The Lions have an easy schedule coming up and they're unlikely to blow the division or anything, but that dream of getting the NFC's No. 1 seed probably died with the loss to the Packers.

4. Baltimore Ravens (9-3, LW: 5)

Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will have to get some head-coaching interviews. He is leading a top-five defense that doesn't have a dominant pass rusher. He is one of the NFL's best at scheming up a defense.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-3, LW: 4)

Rashee Rice's 107-yard game might end up being a big turning point in not just the Chiefs' season but for the entire NFL season. With the Chiefs' defense playing well, KC just needed a spark at receiver. If Rice's big game is a sign he's about to get hot, that's huge for the Chiefs.

2. San Francisco 49ers (8-3, LW: 2)

The first three quarters or so of the Thanksgiving win at Seattle was absolutely dominant. You won't see one team destroy another playoff-level team like that very often. If the 49ers can go into Philadelphia and win on Sunday, there shouldn't be any further question about their status as the best team in the NFL.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-1, LW: 1)

The Eagles have been outgained by at least 98 yards in each of their past four games. They went 4-0. According to James Palmer of NFL Network, the Eagles are 5-0 when trailing at halftime and the rest of the NFL is 35-129 in that situation. An MVP favorite at quarterback, a deep roster and a plus head coach obviously factor into a strong record in close games, but it seems unsustainable. Yet, the Eagles keep winning and who else can we say that about?