Once again the Chargers looked like a playoff team through three quarters, and then struggled mightily in the fourth. Except this time they won. The Chargers beat the Broncos 21-13 on Thursday Night Football, even after making some major mistakes, the team made plays down the stretch to end a 10-game divisional losing streak.
After receiving the kick off, the Chargers came out rolling with first downs, and staying balanced, taking advantage of a team surprisingly allowing the most points on their opponents opening drives this season. The Bolts used a a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took up seven minutes, ending on a great 5-yard fingertip touchdown catch by rookie tight end Hunter Henry, with a defender all over him.
The defense also looked strong out of the gate, giving up only one first down, and getting early pressure on a young, inexperienced quarterback to force a punt.
The next drive was a thing of beauty gaining seven first downs and having the longest drive of Philip Rivers career using up 10:03 of the clock, and converting their first fourth down of the season. This time they were shut down by the Broncos, and had to settle for a field goal.
After San Diego forced another very short drive, the Chargers made their first big mistake. Travis Benjamin looked to receive the punt before waving everyone off because the punt was short, so everyone avoided the ball, except Benjamin. After the ball hit the ground the Chargers speedy returner changed his mind and went for it, only to have the ball barely touch his leg and the Broncos recovered on the San Diego 11-yard line.
After the offense left them in a compromising position again, the defense gave up zero net yards. On third down, Joey Bosa flashed again, chasing down Trevor Siemien right as he started to scramble, forcing a field field goal to make the score 10-3.
Both defenses played well until the end of the the first half, neither surrendering a first down. In the first half the Chargers defense had allowed only two first downs and only 55 offensive yards.
After a three-and-out by the Broncos to open the half, Melvin Gordon got involved and broke a career long 48-yard run all the way down to the Denver 6-yard line. Once again the Chargers had issues in putting the ball in the end zone and ended up with another field goal to put the Bolts up 13-3.
On the next drive the Chargers defense came up with another big play when new linebacker Korey Toomer stripped receiver Jordan Taylor, and then recovered it. This setup three more points for the Bolts to give make it 16-3.
On the Chargers next drive they found some success moving the ball again, getting all the way to the Denver 20-yard line, using a couple big defensive penalties to get another three points to push the lead to sixteen.
This is where things started to get interesting. The Broncos were called for holding in the end zone, gift wrapping the Chargers a safety, and seemingly putting the game away leading 21-3. That was until the free kick where Denver punted the ball directly at offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins, who tried to fair catch it before the ball bounced off of him, and the Broncos recovered.
Denver answered quickly, moving right down the field and scoring on a 5-yard Trevor Siemian touchdown pass cutting the lead to eleven.
Then the Broncos showed why their defense was so highly thought of as they sent the Chargers offense backwards eleven yards before forcing a punt.
The Broncos offense kept rolling and moved the ball again easily with San Diego playing a prevent type defense. They would score a touchdown on a C.J. Anderson run but it would be called back on a huge holding call, and then Jatavis Brown decided enough was enough. After getting a huge 10-yard sack of Trevor Siemian, Brown made a huge hit on Demaryius Thomas forcing a fumble and the Chargers recovered it.
That should have been the game, but the Broncos forced another stop and used their timeouts to get the ball back with 3:03 remaining.
The Bolts defense played well and allowed only short plays making the Broncos burn much of their time, and were able to hold them to a field goal with only 27 seconds to play to make it a one-possession game at 21-13. Now all the Chargers had to do was recover the onside kick. Of course, as this season has played out, they would not recover after coach Mike McCoy tried to freeze the kicker with a timeout only to have the Broncos kick to the opposite side and recover, gaining possession for the third time on special teams for the game.
As Mike McCoy squatted on the sideline with his hand over his face, the Broncos got to the San Diego 45-yard line before Trevor Siemien threw a rushed hail Mary throw that 6’4” safety Dexter McCoil swatted down to seal the win for the Chargers.
The Chargers still showed many of the traits that they were looking to end, struggling again to close, but it looks like they have saved Mike McCoy’s job, at least for now.
The Bolts will now have a 10-day break after the short week before they head to Atlanta to play the Falcons (4-1) on Sunday October 23rd.