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Chargers’ Justin Herbert quietly goes about business, unless it’s fishing

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COSTA MESA, Calif. — By now, it’s fairly clear what Los Angeles Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert can do with a football. If you want to see him smile, ask him to launch it 70 yards into the waiting hands of a teammate in the end zone or sling a slant to a guy crossing the field.

But if you want to see Herbert beam — really beam — have him cast a line in the ocean and reel in a 22-inch halibut. Then he’s just like a little kid, with a grin from ear to ear. He’s certainly happy about the touchdown pass, but he’s downright giddy when it comes to the halibut.

Herbert was named the Chargers’ permanent starter on Thursday after impressing coach Anthony Lynn with his poise, quick thinking and production (77-of-107 passing for 931 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions) through his first three games. Lynn also likes Herbert’s patience, something he learned by throwing line after line into the pond behind Albertsons on Coburg Road in his hometown of Eugene, Oregon.

It was so much a part of Herbert’s happiness routine that he formed a fishing club at his high school along with a former teammate, Ryan Phillips, whose father, Les, was one of the football coaches.

Herbert played three sports, “but people were kind of more interested in the fishing club than anything else,” Les told the Daily Emerald, the University of Oregon’s student newspaper, in 2016. They even made T-shirts.

Before the country shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, former adversary Michael Pittman Jr. (who played for USC and is now a wide receiver with the Indianapolis Colts) and his girlfriend, Kianna Galli, took Herbert to the Huntington Beach Pier in Huntington Beach, California, where they spent an hour hooking bait while Galli filmed their YouTube TV show.

Chargers tight end Hunter Henry hasn’t heard the quiet Herbert discuss his fishing prowess, though noted that “he’s always got some sort of fishing glove on.”

He had a “Toes to the Nose” hat — a Laguna Beach surfer favorite — on in February as Pittman tried to play his role as the sophisticated Cali kid to Herbert’s more reserved persona. At one point he badgered the chit-chat-challenged Herbert with questions as unknowing fishermen cast lines in between guys who would go on to be the No. 6 and No. 34 picks, respectively, in the 2020 NFL draft.

“So Justin,” Pittman said in his not-so-shy outside voice, “how was it winning that ROSE BOWL?”

Silence.

Pittman: “You know the Rose Bowl? When you guys beat Wisconsin, like a month ago?”

Silence.

Pittman: “And then you went to the Senior Bowl and had the MVP honors?”

Silence

Pittman: “Top-10 draft pick?”

Herbert: “WILL YOU SHUT UP?”

Pittman: “Yes, yes sir.”

As loud and chatty as Pittman can be (they were taping for his YouTube channel, Michael and Kianna, which now has more than 296,000 followers) Herbert is the nearly the exact opposite — at least in public — and always makes sure to say the right thing

“Over the past couple of months,” he said a few weeks ago, “I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing else that I’d rather be doing. Playing football for the Chargers is something that I’ve dreamed about. If I go out there and do everything right, study and work hard, good things will happen.”

It’s part of the way he was raised, the middle child of three boys, one of whom is in school to become a doctor, the other a tight end at Oregon. They are sons of a former athlete and grandsons of another Duck.

They live a stone’s throw from Autzen Stadium, where they went to as many Ducks games as possible growing up, marveling at quarterbacks such as Joey Harrington and Marcus Mariota.

Herbert was a 4.01 biology major and a teaching assistant for one of the toughest biology classes — Bio 212, organisms — and came back to school his senior year to finish what he set out to do when he was named the starting quarterback as a freshman in 2016: win a Rose Bowl and avenge a 4-8 freshman season.

But Herbert has never been one for small talk. Yes, he’s a rookie, and rookies have to be wary. Whenever Herbert talks to the media these days, it’s always honest and with a deference most aren’t used to.

Herbert is already beloved in Los Angeles and by a fan base starving for a star, a process that started earlier than almost everyone expected.

Herbert was the backup quarterback in Week 1 and was expected to fill that role again in Week 2 as the Chargers prepared for their SoFi Stadium opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Suddenly, starter Tyrod Taylor was the victim of a pregame “blind” injection, causing his lung to collapse, and Herbert was thrown into the starting spotlight. It was so sudden that Lynn didn’t know about Taylor’s injury until after the coin flip. Herbert’s mother, Holly, missed the first few plays because she was sure that her son wasn’t going to see action.

Herbert barely blinked, leading the Chargers to a touchdown on his first NFL drive (which he ran in) and throwing for 311 yards and another score as L.A. took the Chiefs to overtime.

He got stronger the next week, nearly leading a come-from-behind victory over the Carolina Panthers with a final play he says “they practice every day,” the hook-and-ladder that Austin Ekeler wasn’t able to secure from Keenan Allen.

He improved even more in Week 4, staking his team to a 24-7 first-half lead against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady. Herbert went 20-for-25 for 290 yards and three touchdown passes against the Bucs — including 53- and 7-yarders, respectively — before throwing a late interception to Carlton Davis as he was trying to lead the Chargers to a game-tying score.

“Despite the loss it was an awesome experience,” Herbert said. “Just to be out there playing in Tampa Bay alongside my teammates, it doesn’t get any better than that. Yeah, we lost, but we’re going to learn from it, and I know I’m going to get better from it.”

And now it’s on to New Orleans to face another legend, the Saints’ Drew Brees, on Monday Night Football.

Maybe the Chargers will get over the hump this time and get Herbert his first NFL win as a starter. Just don’t ask him to talk too much about it.

But he did speak up after catching the halibut with Pittman, the biggest of the day.

“Gonna need some help with this one,” he said to Pittman as he lay the fish on the sand.

Not that Herbert is a weakling — just the opposite. But halibut have teeth. That’s all he needs — teeth chomping into his million-dollar fingers.

That wouldn’t be good at all.

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Bucs look more like legit contenders each week

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cleared one major hurdle this season in getting their first signature win against the Green Bay Packers last week, playing one of their best games in the past decade. The next hurdle: how they handle winning on a weekly basis with a growing target on their backs as they’ve emerged as a favorite in the NFC. They handled business against the Las Vegas Raiders, who had an extra week to prepare, with a 45-20 win on the road.

Tom Brady threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns — he now has 559 passing TDs, surpassing Drew Brees (558) for the career TD passes mark. This wasn’t an error-free performance for the Bucs. They started off sluggish as a defense. Their second-half struggles that plagued them earlier in the year resurfaced in the third quarter, before a three-TD scoring explosion in the fourth. The Bucs improve their record to 5-2 to maintain their NFC South lead.

QB breakdown: Brady didn’t need his defense to get things going like he did when the Bucs were down 10-0 last week. Against the Raiders’ single-high safety looks in the first half, he had a ton of success on crossing routes with tight end Rob Gronkowski, producing gains of 26 and 28 yards. After a QB sneak for a TD in the first quarter, Brady hit Gronkowski in the corner of the left end zone on a back-shoulder fade, just like they did last week, to make it 14-10. Then just before halftime with :25 remaining, Brady fired a missile to Scotty Miller for a 33-yard touchdown to make it 21-10.

In total, Brady completed 33 of 45 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns with a fifth on the ground and no interceptions. He was not sacked once, and the Bucs’ red zone numbers were back on track after flopping against the Bears, going 4-of-5 in that department.

Promising trend: Coming off the Bucs’ 11-penalty performance against the Bears in Week 5, Bruce Arians told his players, “You have to get the job done or you won’t be the one doing the job,” inside linebacker Devin White said. It appears they’ve taken it to heart. After delivering a zero-penalty performance for just the second time in franchise history last week against the Green Bay Packers, the Bucs followed that up with just four penalties against the Raiders this week.

A pair of those penalties were costly, though. An offsides penalty on Shaq Barrett negated what would have been a Mike Edwards interception in the third quarter. Then on the very next play, Sean Murphy-Bunting was slapped with a holding call, setting up a 44-yard reception by Nelson Agholor and a 1-yard touchdown strike to Darren Waller to make it a one-score game.

Biggest concern: Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans hasn’t been able to fully practice with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 4 and was targeted three times with just one catch. If he’s that hurt — which it appears he is — there’s no reason to play him against the 1-6 Giants next week when a rematch with New Orleans could decide the NFC South in two weeks. In fact, he was still playing when the Bucs had a two-TD lead, which is baffling.

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Kershaw on lifting L.A. to cusp of WS: ‘Feels good’

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ARLINGTON, Texas — As Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts strolled to the mound with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, a chorus of boos rained down from the crowd at Globe Life Field. Even though this was Game 5 of Major League Baseball’s first neutral-site World Series, Dodgers fans have overrun the stadium, and they let their feelings be known: They did not want Roberts to remove Clayton Kershaw from the game.

Roberts did not abide, and as Kershaw strode off the mound, it was to a sound too often unfamiliar to him in October: cheers. If ever there was a postseason to huzzah the Dodgers’ left-hander, of course, this is it, and his plenty-solid performance in Game 5 laid the foundation for the Dodgers’ 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

The win, on the heels of the Dodgers’ brutal Game 4 loss a day earlier, gave the Dodgers a 3-2 advantage in the series and put them one victory shy of their first championship since 1988. They can lock up a title in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

“It feels pretty good,” Kershaw said of walking off the mound to a standing ovation. “Anytime you can have success in the postseason it just means so much, that is what you work for, that is what you play for this month. I know what the other end of that feels like too. I will definitely take it when I can get it.”

If this was Kershaw’s last appearance in the 2020 postseason — there’s always a potential Game 7 relief appearance looming — there’s a good argument that it’s his finest playoffs yet. His shakiness in Game 5 evened out in the middle innings — he even foiled the first attempted straight steal of home in a World Series game since 1982 — and by the time Roberts yanked him, Kershaw had retired eight batters in a row to gussy up a final line for 5 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks and 6 strikeouts. In total, he has thrown 30 2/3 innings these playoffs, allowed 23 hits, walked 5 and struck out 37 with a 2.93 ERA and 4 wins.

Though the jeers that greeted Roberts on his way to the mound were even worse as he returned to the dugout, his maneuvering in Game 5 worked far better than his bungling the day prior — even if it placed the Dodgers in one particularly hairy situation. Dustin May, the fireballer who replaced Kershaw, struck out Rays cleanup hitter Manuel Margot on a 101.5-mph fastball to end the sixth and threw another scoreless 1 1/3 innings afterward.

He exited with a runner on first when Rays manager Kevin Cash pinch hit left-handed hitter Ji-Man Choi, which prompted Roberts to go to lefty Victor Gonzalez. Cash immediately pinch hit right-hander Mike Brosseau, who mashes lefties, and he walked. Up stepped Randy Arozarena, the Rays’ best hitter and a right-hander as well.

On the first pitch, Gonzalez induced a flyout. Brandon Lowe floated a ball to center field for the third out. The Dodgers had escaped, and Blake Treinen — not Kenley Jansen, who blew Game 4 — came on in the ninth and recorded the save.

“We stuck with the plan so credit to Doc for that one,” Kershaw said of Roberts. “DMay came in and threw the ball awesome, Victor same way and Blake too. Unbelievable job by those guys tonight which was huge.”

The Dodgers had played nine innings of clean baseball less than 20 hours after their two-error debacle with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning allowed Arozarena to pound home plate for the winning run and Brett Phillips to airplane into the outfield after loosing the single that led to the chaotic series of events evening the series.

Mookie Betts ripped a leadoff double off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, Corey Seager plated him with a single and Cody Bellinger‘s two-out infield single scored him, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 advantage. Joc Pederson‘s home run in the second extended it to 3-0 — the same lead he had and frittered away in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series.

World Series Game 5s, in fact, had been a bugaboo for Kershaw. The Boston Red Sox tarred him with four runs in four innings of the 2018 World Series, and he was beginning to bend in the third inning Sunday. Kevin Kiermaier singled, Yandy Diaz tripled him in and Arozarena drove him in to cut the lead to 3-2.

“I didn’t have my stuff like I did in Game 1,” Kershaw said. “My slider wasn’t there as good as it was, so fortunate to get through there.”

The key moment came an inning later. Manuel Margot drew a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw. Hunter Renfroe walked. With runners on the corners, Joey Wendle popped out and Willy Adames struck out. With Kiermaier at the plate and down 0-1, Margot dashed for home. Kershaw recognized in time and threw to Austin Barnes, who slapped a tag with Margot’s fingertips inches from home plate.

From there, Kershaw cruised, passing Justin Verlander for the most strikeouts all-time in the postseason with 206. Kershaw, circa 2020, is more craftsman than conqueror, and though this wasn’t the coronation he wanted nor the dominant start he desired, it was plenty good — something well worth cheering.

“Kersh, a lot of credit goes to him for what we’ve been able to do in this World Series,” Treinen said. “There’s a tough narrative on him. He’s a phenomenal pitcher on the biggest stage.”

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Cards knock off unbeaten Seahawks in wild OT

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Of all the players to lead the Arizona Cardinals to an overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks, it was one of the most unlikely.

Rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with 1:04 left in overtime on his fourth snap of the game. He didn’t play in the first half.

That led to Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez redeeming himself after missing the game-winning field goal earlier in overtime, making a 48-yard kick with 20 seconds left in the extra period to give Arizona a 37-34 win while handing the Seahawks their first loss of the season.

Arizona improved to 5-2, holding onto second place in the NFC West with the Los Angeles Rams playing Monday night.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury nearly cost the Cardinals the game earlier in overtime, when he iced Gonzalez with 2:47 left on second-and-15. Gonzalez made the initial kick but it didn’t count, then he missed the next one.

Then came Simmons’ pick.

It was just another typical Cardinals-Seahawks game — full of drama, twists and turns.

Both teams combined for 1,091 yards — 572 by Seattle and 519 by Arizona.

Kyler Murray threw for 360 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 34-for-48 passing. He also had 67 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

DeAndre Hopkins had 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Running back Chase Edmonds, who had two of the biggest plays in overtime, caught all seven of his targets for 87 yards. Larry Fitzgerald had 62 yards while catching all eight of his targets.

The game was moved to Sunday night amid concerns the Bucs-Raiders game might have to be postponed due to a positive coronavirus test on the Raiders and additional players being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list due to contact tracing.

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