The irony wasn't lost on Justin Herbert. Nearly a month to the day after his and the Chargers' 2021 season ended in Las Vegas, Herbert was standing alongside Raiders pass rusher Maxx Crosby as the Offensive and Defensive MVPs of this year's Pro Bowl.
If Herbert happened to forget where he was, he was reminded by the contingent of Raiders fans who took in the first Pro Bowl played inside Allegiant Stadium.
"When I was announced as the Offensive MVP, [there were] a lot of boos, so I was reminded very quickly that we were in Vegas," said Herbert, who was told that the great Kobe Bryant was once booed at an All-Star game in his hometown of Philadelphia after receiving MVP honors.
"That's good company," Herbert said. "I've got a lot of respect for that team and especially that city, because they've been able to put together some pretty good football."
Herbert has partnered with Dr. Squatch, a personal care brand that focused on products using natural ingredients. Herbert might want to consider sending some of their products over to Crosby, who can make a quarterback's life a living nightmare.
Crosby was just one of the obstacles facing Herbert and his teammates during the Chargers' regular season finale, a game both teams needed to win to make the playoffs. Down 29-14 late in the game, the Chargers rallied to force overtime behind two touchdown passes from Herbert. The teams then exchanged field goals in overtime before the Raiders won the game on Daniel Carlson's 47-yard field goal.
"Maxx is an incredible player," Herbert said. "He's done such a great job at disrupting the passer all year. We were able to see that in this Pro Bowl as well. He was a guy who made plays and found a way to get to the passer. But in the same time, during that last game, we had no choice. We had to do out best to come back into it. We were down a couple of scores and we just needed to convert those fourth downs. Thankfully, we have Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, all those guys on the outside that make my job so much easier. I know they're going to get open and as long as I am smooth and I have rhythm to my drop, everything will time out pretty well."
Herbert considers that game one of the most exciting ones he's had over the course of his career.
"It's definitely near the top," he said. "I know the environment of 'Sunday Night Football,' win to get into the playoffs and the environment that was in Vegas, I don't know that it gets much better than that. The unfortunate part was that we lost, that's obviously very tough but at the same time, just being there with the teammates and knowing what's at stake, the opportunity that we had, that's why you play football, and I thought it was awesome."
The Chargers could have benefitted in that game by having the fourth-and-15 rule that was put into effect at the Pro Bowl. For the first time, the team that scored had the option of trying to convert a fourth-and-15 on their own 25-yard-line to keep possession.
Because it was the Pro Bowl, neither offense had the plays, preparation or continuity to have much success in those situations, which was a big reason why the teams went a combined 0-for-8 on fourth-and-15 attempts. Herbert said that, if the NFL were to implement that rule change for the regular season, offenses would have more success in those situations. It could be a significant advantage for high-powered offenses like the one Herbert leads in Los Angeles.
"I think if you spent more time really studying what [defenses] play on fourth-and-15 and exactly how to get receivers open, I think you can manage it," Herbert said. "I feel like if we were attacking it with the mindset of it's in the regular season, we really need this, I think we'd be able to convert more.
"The onside kick has been such a tough task to get because of how good the opposing hands teams are. I know with the talent we have with Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Jared Cook and Jalen Guyton, I think that does help our team."
Herbert said the Chargers took a big step forward in 2021. A 7-9 outfit in 2020, the 2021 Chargers posted their first winning season since 2018. Individually, Herbert was named to his first Pro Bowl while leading an offense that finished fifth in the league in points scored.
"The unfortunate part is it ended a little earlier than we would have liked," Herbert said. "But at the same time I saw a lot of growth within our team. We were in a position to make and to go play in the playoffs. That's the tough part. At the same time, we felt like we shouldn't have been in that position to have to win the last game to get in. Had we won a couple of the games earlier on in the season, we wouldn't have been in that position. It's all about putting together an entire year of good football that I know that we are capable of playing.
"Heading into this offseason, I know it's going to be big for us. Who comes back and who we get, I'm really excited to see that because we're going to bring in some really good talent and hopefully we're going to maintain some talent as well."
While they share SoFi Stadium with the Rams, Herbert and his teammates also have familiarity with the AFC's representative in Super Bowl LVI. In Week 13, the Chargers went to Cincinnati and left with a 41-22 victory. While he sacked four times, Herbert managed to complete over 74% of his passes for 317 yards with three touchdowns an an interception. The Chargers' defense forced four turnovers that included Tevaughn Campbell's 61-yard fumble return for a score.
"The Bengals are very sound defensively," Herbert said. "They've got some really good coaches on that side of the ball. They've got some really good athletic guys on defense. They make plays and they are able to disrupt the passer. They've got some linebackers that really fly around, and DBs that are really good in press and in zone. It was really tough for us.
"I think we hit on some deep shots. Jalen Guyton caught a 40, 50-yard ball that really kind of changed the momentum of the game. I think whenever you're able to complete those balls, I think that gives you a really good shot at winning."
Herbert knows that, in order for Joe Burrow and the Bengals' offense to have success, they'll have to do their best to contain all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald and former Super Bowl MVP pass rusher Von Miller.
"I can't imagine," Herbert said with a laugh when asked about the prospect of facing the Rams' dynamic duo. "Having those guys rush the passer. You're always worried about where they are and how you can slide to protect against them. At the same time, you can't be too focused on them because then you're not able to look downfield. That's one of the tough things and that's why they make the Rams so good."
Along with facing Burrow (a fellow member of the 2020 NFL Draft class) this season, Herbert and his teammates defeated a Steeles team led by Ben Roethlisberger, who retired shortly after Pittsburgh's season-ending loss to the Chiefs in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Hebert has relished the chance to share the field with some of the quarterbacks that he grew up watching.
"I think it's been so much fun," he said. "I grew up such a big NFL fan and watching Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, all of those guys. I played video games with them, I had their jerseys, and now to be able to play against them, to learn from them and to be able to talk with them, I don't think it gets much better than that."
Along with preparing for the 2022 season, Herbert is excited to continue his partnership with Dr. Squatch, whose Star Wars soap package was one of the items that initially caught his eye.
"I'm really excited to partner with Dr. Squatch," Herbert said. "I think the great thing about their company is that they've been able to produce these high performance care products. Soaps, deodorants, shampoos, conditioners that are free from synthetic materials or harsh chemicals.
"They've done a great job of supplying me and my teammates soap and anything that we could need for after games, after lifts after practice. That's what we're going to. ... They produce some of the peppermint bars of soap that me and Bryan Bulaga love. He actually gave me a bunch of them. I think the scent would have to be either the Pine Tar or the Birchwood Breeze just because it reminds me of football. That's what I had all year and the scents kind of bring me back to football."