The Chargers outlasted the Broncos by a score of 19-16 thanks to four field goals from Michael Badgley while Justin Herbert threw his record-breaking 28th touchdown pass as a rookie to earn the Bolts’ their third-straight victory, including their second in a row against the AFC West.
We’re going to try a more polished and concise recap structure this week where I break the game down by quarter and focus more on the big plays throughout. If you enjoy it, let me know. If you don’t let me know that, too.
Let’s get into it.
The Chargers received a instant shot of momentum from the jump in this one when safety Nasir Adderley returned the opening kickoff 53 yards to the Denver 39-yard line. Unfortunately the drive stalled after gaining one first down and the Bolts had to settle for a 37-yard field goal from Michael Badgley.
On the Broncos ensuing drive, Drew Lock marched the the Denver offense all the way to the Los Angeles 16-yard line. Lock dropped back on the 14th play of the game and scrambled to his left to avoid the pass rush before attempting a side-arm pass to DaSean Hamilton. The pass was a good bit behind Hamilton and was tipped off a defender’s finger right into the waiting arms of Casey Hayward who took it out of the end zone to the five. The Bolts would punt five plays later.
The Broncos next drive started with 2:44 on the clock and went nine plays to the Chargers 24. The Bolts held Denver once again just outside of the red zone as they lined up to attempt a 41-yard field goal. Brandon McManus doinked the kick off the upright but the Chargers were called for offsides which moved the kick up five yards. The shorter distance made no difference as McManus once again ricocheted it off the upright for his second-straight miss. The three-point lead for the Chargers held.
It was on the next Chargers’ drive that history was made when Herbert threw a short pass to Ekeler in the flat that he took up the left sideline, trucking his way into the end zone for the rookie’s 28th touchdown pass of the season. It broke the tie with the Browns’ Baker Mayfield who previously set the mark at 27 during his first NFL season in 2018.
The Bolts forced a Denver punt on their next drive and then added another field goal by Badgley — this one from 43 yards — to give them a 13-0 lead with 2:43 remaining in the half.
The Broncos couldn’t muster anything on their final drive before the midway point and the Bolts ran the time out to head into the break with the 13-point lead.
Both teams traded punts to begin the second half before the Broncos finally put some points on the board with a 30-yard field goal by McManus. With 5:11 left in the third, the Chargers held a 13-3 lead.
The Chargers ensuing drive got big catches out of tight ends Donald Parham and Stephen Anderson, the latter of which helped Herbert become just the fourth rookie in NFL history to eclipse 4,000 passing yards in a season, joining Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Jameis Winston. He also joined Patrick Mahomes as the only other quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards through a player’s first 14 starts.
The Chargers came oh-so close to responding with a touchdown drive, but Mike Williams couldn’t hang on to the ball after diving for the catch on a third-and-two. The Chargers elected to kick the field goal and Badgley pushed their lead back to 16-3.
Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmer had the offense moving after a deep completion to tight end Noah Fant put them inside of Chargers territory. But the defense stiffened up once again and they managed to hold Denver to a 50-yard field goal which shrunk the Bolts’ lead back to 10 with 11:23 remaining in the game.
After the Broncos forced the Chargers into a three-and-out, they went 72 yards in 11 plays — converting on a fourth-and-seven along the way — before Drew Lock scored on a quarterback sneak. After the extra point, it was 16-13 Bolts.
The Bolts would go three-and-out on the next after starting it with back-to-back penalties. After running the ball on 1st-and-15 from their seven, you just knew it wasn’t going to succeed.
The Broncos capitalized on the good starting field position just enough to get McManus in range for a successful 52-yard field goal. With the score now 16-16, the Chargers officially blew a double-digit lead for the second time against the Broncos this season.
Propelled by Austin Ekeler’s 35 yards on the ground, Herbert needed to complete just one pass — a 23-yarder to Jalen Guyton — to help push the Chargers within field goal range on their final drive of the game. Despite the Broncos sacking Herbert on third down, Badgley was still able to convert an easy 37-yard kick with 47 seconds remaining in the game.
For the second time Sunday afternoon, the Broncos converted a fourth-and 10 with a 25-yard pass to Hamilton which put them on the midfield stripe. The Chargers put Mike Williams in the game to play defense on the Broncos’ Hail Mary attempt and the 6’4 wideout actually came away with the game-sealing interception.