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Chargers-Broncos Game Recap: Justin Herbert injured in deflating loss to Broncos

Justin Herbert was knocked out of the game with a finger injury on his throwing hand and the Chargers were throttled at home 24-7 by the Broncos.

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After getting back in the win column last week, the fan base could feel the small amount of remaining hope rising within them. Knowing what a win against the Broncos could have done for the team, it was tough not to lean into it.

Oh how we all fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker.

On a day where Chargers legend Antonio Gates was inducted into the franchise’s Hall of Fame, the Bolts put on a show for its fans that may not even be worthy of being pirating off the internet. Justin Herbert was knocked out of the game with a finger injury to his throwing hand late in the second quarter, but even before that, the offense was lifeless and the the team’s golden boy looked far from his usual self. Easton Stick drove them to a lone touchdown in the fourth quarter but the Chargers ultimately fell 24-7 at home.

With numerous former players and legends in attendance, the Chargers were about as bad as we’ve seen them in the Brandon Staley era. Now I’d be wrong not to point out how well the defense played through most of the game. They forced quite a few punts and even snagged a nifty interception on the first series of the game. So while it’s not fair to necessary blame the defense in this one, it just so happened that they allowed the longest drive of the game for the Broncos during the fourth quarter which milked 7:26 off the remaining 10:37 in regulation.

The Chargers are now 5-8 with four games remaining. They now must win out to even THINK about having a shot at the playoffs. Hope isn’t bad to have. Hope likely is what will help most fans get through the rest of the season. But as things stand, things are bleak and none of us should be surprised if chess pieces start falling over the coming days/weeks.

For the compete quarter-by-quarter recap of today’s game, continue on below!

First Quarter

The Broncos won the coin toss and chose to defer. The Chargers offense was up first.

The Chargers started the game with two consecutive runs by Austin Ekeler that combined to move the chains. On the ensuing first down, Herbert threw high to Keenan Allen and the ball sailed incomplete after skimming his fingertips. After a short run by Joshua Kelley, Herbert was sacked after holding the ball too long on a a play-action boot.

On the first offensive play for the Broncos, Wilson threw a quick pass to Marvin Mims in the flat who was swiftly tackled by Michael Davis. Before the ball hit the ground, Davis controlled the ball before Mims truly could and it was ruled an interception after a lengthy review by officials.

Unfortunately, the Chargers couldn’t must any points despite starting with the ball inside the red zone. After Ekeler was tackled for a loss by Nik Bonitto, Herbert hit Erickson on a slant to get ahead of the chains for third down. Herbert dropped back and rushed a pass to Quentin Johnston in the back of the end zone but it ricocheted off the cross bar after sailing. Brandon Staley chose to roll the dice on fourth down and the pass attempt to Gerald Everett was dropped in the back of the end zone.

After forcing the Broncos to punt near midfield, the rough start for the Chargers offense only continued. Herbert was pressured near his end zone and saw a pass attempt tipped right into the arms of a Broncos defensive lineman. One play later, running back Javonte Williams shook several defenders before waltzing into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead for the Broncos.

The Bolts punted after a four-play drive and the Broncos were driving as the first quarter came to a close.

Second Quarter

The second quarter started off uneventful. The Chargers defense continued to step up and keep the Broncos from getting into scoring drive. At the same time, the Chargers offense still struggled to find some semblance of a groove.

Herbert found Gerald Everett for a first down but things stalled there. Herbert once again took a huge sack on third down, his third of the game just 20 minutes into regulation.

After another Broncos punt, the Chargers finally found some momentum on offense. After chunk gains to Austin Ekeler and Donald Parham. They managed to get all the way to the Denver 29-yard line before stalling on third down and in true Staley fashion, they decided to roll the dice once more.

Here’s the kicker: an actual play was never run. Herbert used a hard count and got Broncos defensive tackle Zach Allen to jump across the neutral zone. Believing it was a free play, Herbert through it up to a streaking Erickson but it was snatched by a Bronco defender as he sailed out of bounds. Fully expecting to gain a first down with the added yardage, the officials called the Chargers for an illegal shift and since the penalty occurred on fourth down, the Chargers were forced to turn it over on downs for the second time in the first half.

It didn’t stop there, however.

When Herbert trotted off the field, he immediately met with the medical staff before walking back into the locker room. To everyone’s surprise, Herbert did not come back out in time for the next drive and Easton Stick officially took over the offense with roughly two minutes to go in the half.

Stick completed his first attempt to Keenan Allen which was also his first catch of the game. Second down brought an incompletion to Everett. On third down, Stick was hit while throwing and the Broncos scooped up the apparent fumble and returned it all the way for a touchdown. However, after review, the call was overturned and the Chargers got the chance to punt.

The Broncos went on a drive before the half ended that started with three consecutive passes to running back Samaje Perine. A couple plays later, Wilson found a wideout open Lucas Krull for a 35-yard gain up the right sideline. Alohi Gilman grabbed his facemask on the tackle attempt which pushed the Broncos all the way to the five-yard line.

Wideout Jerry Jeudy looked like he caught an easy touchdown in the back of the end zone but the replay showed one of his feet just barely crossed out of bounds so it was overruled. Wilson was pressured and threw incomplete on third down and Denver chose to kick the field goal to go into halftime up 10-0.

Third Quarter

The Chargers were forced to begin the third quarter with the news that Justin Herbert would not be returning to the game with another finger injury. My immediate memory tells me this is the first time Herbert will miss extended time with an injury despite having already fought through another finger injury and the cracked ribs he fought through in 2022.

Defensively, the Bolts stood tall on the opening drive. They forced a three-and-out and Easton Stick got another chance to work with the offense. The Chargers ran the ball seven on eight of their plays, including their third failed fourth-down attempt of the game.

After turning it over on downs, the Broncos put together their first scoring drive of the game that did not start with a turnover. On first-and-10 at the Los Angeles 46-yard line, Wilson dropped back and all day to survey the field. He launched a moon shoot to 6’4 Courtland Sutton in the end zone who snagged the pass with one hand as he boxed Michael Davis out with the other. The touchdown but the Broncos up 17-0 with just under six minutes to go in the period.

Both teams traded punts from there before the Chargers managed to move the chains twice on passes to Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen, respectively. As the time ticked off in the quarter, the Bolts were facing a third and four from their own 31-yard line.

Fourth Quarter

The Chargers went on their longest drive of the game in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, it went just 42 yards and once again ended with zero points and a turnover on downs.

The Broncos were forced to punt right back to the Chargers after a three-and-out and boy is this where the madness started.

Ekeler took a handoff for nine yards to begin the drive. Knowing they needed just a yard to move the chains, Kellen Moore cooked up a deep shot to Quentin Johnston off play action. Johnston showed off that long speed and managed to get two full step on a Broncos defender and Stick dropped it right in the bucket for a massive 57-yard gain. On the next play, Johnston caught another pass for 22 yards which brought his total to 91 yards on three catches. Two plays later, Ekeler took a handoff right up the middle to score the Chargers’ first touchdown in over 110 minutes of game time. With over 10 minutes remaining, the Chargers weren’t dead yet.

That was, until the defense finally began to fold.

The Broncos gained two yards on their first two plays combined. On third-and-8, Wilson hit tight end Adam Trautman in the flat for what looked like a gain well short of the first down. That was because Derwin James was nearby and it looked like a foregone conclusion that he was going to make the stop.

That didn’t happen.

James overran Trautman who fought through an arm tackle before rumbling for the first down. On their next third down, Wilson scrambled to convert again. Time was hemorrhaging off the clock at this point. On yet another third down, Wilson hit Perine short of the sticks but Murray whiffed on the tackle once again and it was yet another conversion.

In all, the Broncos put together a 13-play, 75-yard drive that milked a ton of time off the clock and they managed to end it with a wide open touchdown pass to Trautman. Not a single defender was within 10-15 yards of Trautman in the end zone and I don’t know how you get more fitting than that as a dagger for this game.

With a little over three minutes remaining, Stick hit Allen on back-to-back catches for 22 and 13 yards, respectively. His second catch helped him set a new single-season record for receptions by a Chargers player with 108, breaking Ekeler’s record he set a season ago.