Herbert’s 55-yard laser of a throw landed in the outstretched arms of wide receiver Mike Williams, drawing cheers throughout SoFi Stadium.
The pass came in the third quarter and was part of a six-play drive that resulted in a field goal to help lift the Bolts to a 23-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, keeping L.A.’s hope alive for their first playoff berth in four seasons.
But for Herbert, the deep completion meant more than another highlight play, as he passed former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck for the most passing yards through a quarterback’s first three NFL seasons.
“I’ve got a ton of respect for Andrew Luck,” Herbert said. “For him as a football player, as a person, as a teammate — I think it’s just cool to be in the same conversation as him.”
Herbert has amassed 13,056 passing yards in 44 starts. Luck had 12,957 passing yards in his first three seasons, followed by Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, who had 12,287 in his first three.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen has caught 240 passes for 2,530 yards in nearly three seasons with Herbert.
“He’s just getting better, he’s just starting,” Allen said. “He’s about to blow this league away.”
Against the Dolphins, Herbert completed 39 of 51 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown for the Bolts (7-6).
“As a quarterback, selfishly, I would love to throw the ball,” Herbert said when asked about the pass-heavy game plan. “I wish we could throw it every single down. I think it’s just kind of the game plan that we went with. We knew that it was going to be that type of game.”
It was Herbert’s 21st career game with 300-plus passing yards, two more than any other player in his first three seasons, including Luck.
“He played with great energy tonight that really affected his teammates in a positive way,” coach Brandon Staley said. “He made a lot of winning plays, really good decisions throughout the game.”
Sunday night was the first time this season that Herbert had both Allen and Williams available throughout an entire game. Entering Sunday, Allen and Williams had played only 5.7% of the Bolts’ 811 snaps together due to injuries.
Williams returned from a high ankle sprain that had limited him to only six snaps since Week 7. He caught six passes for 116 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown that Herbert fired that required the 6-foot-4 Williams to leap high to make the catch before ensuring both toes tapped inbounds, despite his momentum carrying him out the back of the end zone.
“I just knew that Mike was going to be able to go up and get it,” Herbert said. “He has done such an incredible job getting his feet inbounds.”
“Felt pretty good, just wanted to be available the whole game,” Williams said. “I felt comfortable. At the end it got a little tight, but I was still able to play and move around.”
Allen caught 12 passes for 92 yards, marking his 10th career game with at least 12 receptions — the most in NFL history.
Herbert completed a pass to nine different players for the fourth time this season.
“That’s the offense that we like to play, where people touch the ball,” Staley said. “I thought that we ran the football well enough. Like I said, Justin was fantastic with his decision-making tonight.”
Defensively, despite playing without safety Derwin James Jr., defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day and cornerback Bryce Callahan, the Bolts limited quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to 145 passing yards and a touchdown, as the third-year quarterback completed only 10 of 28 attempts for a completion percentage of 36%, the lowest of his career.
“The game plan was simple,” cornerback Michael Davis said. “We were playing fast and loose.”
With the victory, the Chargers chance of earning a playoff berth increases from 60% to 79%, according to ESPN analytics. The Bolts currently are the No. 7 seed in the AFC, tied with the New York Jets (7-6) but boasting a better conference record.
Chargers’ Justin Herbert sets passing mark for first 3 seasons