Herbert to miss rest of season after finger surgery

Published 10:29 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Justin Herbert’s fourth year as an NFL starting quarterback is over with four games remaining in the season.

The Los Angeles Chargers placed Herbert on injured reserve Tuesday after he had surgery to repair the broken index finger on his right hand.

With Herbert sidelined, Easton Stick will get his first NFL start on Thursday night at Las Vegas. Los Angeles is 5-8 and has dropped four of its past five.

Email newsletter signup

“Obviously, this isn’t how I envisioned it,” Stick said. “When they selected me five years ago, this is what you want as a kid — an opportunity to go play. I’m excited for that.”

Stick said he has talked to Herbert the past couple days and that they will remain in communication.

Herbert visited two hand specialists on Monday after he suffered the injury during the second quarter of Los Angeles’ 24-7 loss to visiting Denver on Sunday.

Coach Brandon Staley said Herbert’s surgery went well and that “he’s on the road to recovery.”

Herbert is the seventh starting quarterback in the league to be lost for the season because of an injury, provided the Jets’ Aaron Rodgers does not return from his torn Achilles tendon. That includes the two QBs who signed the highest-value extensions before the season.

Herbert signed a $252.5 million extension on the first day of training camp and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow finalized a five-year extension worth $275 million three days before the Bengals’ first game.

Stick said he has been following the progress of Burrow’s backup, Jake Browning, closely since they were in the same draft class. Browning has won two of his three starts since stepping in for Burrow, who suffered a season-ending wrist injury in a Nov. 16 loss at Baltimore.

“It’s been really cool watching him get his opportunity and have a bunch of success. We follow it as much as anybody,” Stick said. “A lot of the top players at our position have gotten hurt. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the game.”

Stick will be only the fourth Chargers starting quarterback since 2006, the lowest total in the league in that span, according to Sportradar. Green Bay is next with seven.

By comparison, Cleveland has had a league-leading 29 starting QBs over the same period.

Stick attended North Dakota State — the same college that produced Carson Wentz and Trey Lance — and graduated as the winningest quarterback in FCS history (49-3) after leading the Bison to three national championships. He finished his career with 8,693 passing yards and 88 touchdowns. He also rushed for 2,523 yards and 41 TDs.

He was drafted in the fifth round in 2019 but had only seen two snaps in a regular-season game until he came in with 1:52 remaining in the first half Sunday. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 179 yards.

“There’s no way around it — reps are the way you get better. Live reps. That was huge to get some of those under my belt,” Stick said. “Look, we’re playing a really good defense. They haven’t let up very many points this year, especially lately. They have a really good rush. they’ve added a guy in the secondary that’s a really good player. The linebackers play really fast. It’s a big challenge.”

Max Duggan, who was selected in the seventh round of this year’s draft, will be Stick’s backup after he was activated off the practice squad.

Herbert, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 draft, had made 62 consecutive regular-season starts. He played through a broken finger on his non-throwing hand earlier this season and fractured rib cartilage last season.

Herbert is the third significant member of the Chargers’ offense who has been lost for the season. Wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a knee injury in Week 3 at Minnesota and center Corey Linsley played in only three games before being sidelined because of a heart-related issue.

Wide receiver Joshua Palmer, who started in Williams’ place, has missed the past six games because of a knee injury but is expected to play on Thursday night.

Los Angeles is in the midst of one of its worst offensive stretches of the season with only three touchdowns in the past 14 quarters.

In their first season under coordinator Kellen Moore, the Chargers are ranked 17th in total offense. They are on pace for their lowest ranking since they were 18th in 2014.

Moore has experience getting backup QBs ready to step in as starters. The past three seasons in Dallas, Moore had to prepare Cooper Rush, Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert after injuries to Dak Prescott.

“One of the reasons why I was so excited to team up with Kellen was the work that he did with Cooper Rush,” Staley said. “The way that they had to play with Cooper Rush was different than the way that they were playing with Dak, but that’s what you have to do, you have to make adjustments. Then, the rest of your team has to come alive and you have to play the game the way that it needs to be played in order to win.”