Brandon Staley tempted fate and it came back to bite him several times on Sunday afternoon.
Midway through the second quarter, Mike Williams went down after a shot to the back from Denver linebacker Alex Singleton. He was helped off the field by trainers and was seen being carted into the locker room at halftime. Not long before that, Joey Bosa was seen calling for trainers after narrowly sacking Russell Wilson.
By the end of the game, three starters exited the field early for the Chargers. Despite that fact, Brandon Staley still chose to play the majority of his starters through the third quarter before finally pulling them at the start of the fourth.
In a game that meant nothing for their playoff seeding, it seemed like quite the disservice to the fan base to risk the health of their star players on the road just before they travel to Jacksonville next week.
The Chargers ultimately fell 31-28 to the Broncos and finish the regular season 10-7. Somehow, some way, this team finished with an improved record from a year ago despite a laundry list of injuries along the way.
But for now, it’s on to the postseason.
For a complete quarter-by-quarter recap of tonight’s game, check it all out below.
The Broncos won the coin toss and chose to defer. The Chargers offense was up first.
Justin Herbert was surgical on the opening drive as he completed four of his five pass attempts for 58 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown to Keenan Allen who took advantage of a blown coverage by the Denver defense. The Bolts went up 7-0 with 11:17 remaining in the opening period.
The Broncos responded with a touchdown drive of their own, aided by a very ticky-tack roughing call on Ja’Sir Taylor. Russell Wilson guided his team 75 yards in 13 plays before Latavius Murray punched it in from two yards out. Joey Bosa also was called for an offsides penalty inside their own red zone.
The Chargers couldn’t respond on their second offensive drive as they went three-and-out before J.K. Scott laced a bomb inside the Broncos’ 15-yard line. On the other end, Denver would also record a three-and-out of their own.
Mike Williams picked up 18 yards on a third-and-11 and time ticked away with the Chargers driving inside Broncos territory.
Eight plays into the second quarter, Herbert was able to connect with Gerald Everett for his second touchdown in as many games to put the Bolts back on top 14-7 after a 12-play, 53-yard drive that took almost six minutes off the clock.
The Chargers defense stepped up once again to force another three-and-out by the Broncos. Russell Wilson slipped while escaping the pocket and Joey Bosa was able to touch him down for his first sack since returning from injured reserve.
A rare Ekeler blunder occurred on the ensuing drive as the Chargers’ RB1 was stripped at midfield linebacker Joey Jewell and recovered by the Broncos.
Despite the momentum swinging strongly their way, the Broncos could only muster a field goal to help minimize the deficit to four.
On the next Chargers drive, Mike Williams was helped off the field after being gang tackled on a five-yard gain. The Bolts would punt soon after but the Broncos couldn’t muster a first down either and punted it right back for Herbert and Co.
Up 14-10, the Chargers went down the field in time to put up a 48-yard field goal and push their lead back to seven.
But somehow, some way, the Broncos were able to go 75 yards in just three plays thanks to a massive blown coverage by the secondary. Wilson hit Eric Tomlinson from three yards out to tie the game just ahead of halftime.
The Broncos started the second half by marching right down the field to score a go-ahead touchdown which put them up 24-17 early in the third. Running back Tyler Badie took his first NFL touch for a 24-yard score after the defense completely disregarded him coming out of the backfield.
Herbert remained in the game, coming out with most of the offensive starters to begin the half. They went 17 yards in four plays before punting back to Denver.
Wilson hit Jerry Jeudy for a 50-yard gain — his second reception of 50+ yards on the day — to put them just past midfield. A couple plays later, a Wilson pass attempt was batted by Kyle Van Noy before falling into the arms of Sebastian Joseph-Day for his first career interception.
Just before the quarter came to an end, Herbert found DeAndre Carter for a big gain into Broncos territory but Denver safety Justin Simmons punched the ball loose and it was immediately picked up by fellow safety Kareem Jackson.
Chase Daniel finally came into the game for the Chargers’ first offensive drive of the fourth quarter. The Broncos led 31-20 after Wilson found a wide open Courtland Sutton in the end zone to begin the quarter.
After a three-and-out, the Chargers punted back to Denver but the returner muffed the punt and Alohi Gilman was able to pounce on it to gain back possession at the Denver 29-yard line.
Daniel found Allen for the Slayer’s second touchdown of the night to push the score within five. The Chargers chose to go for two with Daniel hitting Joshua Palmer in the back of the end zone to make it 31-28 with a little over six minutes remaining in regulation.
After the defense forced yet another three-and-out by Denver, the offense hurt themselves with a false starter penalty on second-and-10 and then a near-interception on third-and-nine all but ended the hopes of the backups for a win in the season finale.
The Broncos ran out the remaining clock and the Chargers fell 31-28 in the regular season finale.
Justin Herbert finished with 273 passing yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-37 passing.
Austin Ekeler had 34 rushing yards and 36 receiving yards.
Keenan Allen caught eight passes for 102 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
Drue Tranquill and Derwin James each led the defense with six total tackles. Joey Bosa and Kyle Van Noy each had a sack while Sebastian Joseph-Day picked off Russell Wilson for his first professional interception.