Depending on which side you’re on, you’re either gunning for the Chargers to compete and finish this lost season as strong as possible or you’re looking for the losses to continue en route to the Bolts receiving the highest pick possible for next year’s draft.
If you’re of the latter group, you’re likely going to enter the new year with a smile on your face.
In the battle of backup quarterbacks, the Chargers and Easton Stick fell short to Jarrett Stidham and the Broncos by a score of 16-9. The Chargers failed to find the end zone as Stick was essentially throwing to practice squad members all night long. First-round pick Quentin Johnston did not record his first reception of the night until the fourth quarter while veteran journeyman Alex Erickson led the team with seven receptions and 98 receiving yards.
Defensively, Derwin James looked like he was back to his old self, cutting it loose and delivering some hard blows to a number of Broncos players. He ended the game with 12 tackles, two pass breakups, and a sack. Khalil Mack finally crossed over the 100-sack mark with a takedown of Stidham in the first half. His 16 sacks on the year also mark a new single-season high.
Overall, this was not as competitive as an effort as we saw last week against the Bills, but with so many starters out, I don’t know what else we could have expected.
Oh well. The beat goes on. The Chargers will finish the year at home next week as they face the Chiefs in the season finale.
For the compete quarter-by-quarter recap of today’s game, continue on below.
The Broncos won the toss and chose to defer. Easton Stick and the Chargers offense were up first.
The began the drive with two runs from Austin Ekeler. On third down Stick threw high to Gerald Everett over the middle but it sailed through his finger tips and fell incomplete. The Broncos managed just one first down on their opening drive but the Chargers defense forced a punt of their own.
After another three-and-out for the Chargers, the Broncos found enough of a groove that took them all the way inside the LA 15-yard line. When a pass to Jerry Jeudy came up short of a first down, the Broncos elected to kick a field goal to give themselves an early 3-0 lead.
The Chargers notched a first down on their third drive of the game but that was it before punting once again. Through three possessions, Stick was one-of-five passing for 15 yards.
Stidham and the Broncos were driving when time ticked off in the opening quarter.
The Broncos’ drive wound up being shut down soon after the break by Khalil Mack who recorded his 100th career sack on Stidham. The sack was also Mack’s 16th of the season, setting a new single-season career high.
Stick and the Chargers offense finally found some momentum on an eight-play, 42-yard drive that got them inside the Denver red zone. An overthrow to Ekeler in the end zone on second down, followed by another errant incompletion by Stick stuck the Bolts with a fourth down. Giff Smith chose to kick the field and tie things up at 3-3.
The Broncos scored the first touchdown of the game with an insane catch-and-run by wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey who juked through a number of Chargers defenders en route to stumbling just over the goal line for a 54-yard touchdown. Halfway through the second quarter, the Broncos led 10-3.
On the Chargers’ ensuing drive, Giff Smith took a page out of Brandon Staley’s book by going for it on fourth down inside their own territory. On the fake punt, the snap was dropped by linebacker Nick Niemann and he was tackle before coming close to moving the chains. The Broncos capitalized and put three more points on the board to increase their lead back to 13-3.
With 16 seconds remaining in the first half, Stidham found Jerru Jeudy for a huge gain that put them just within field goal range. However, Will Lutz was wide right on a 48-yard attempt which kept the Broncos lead at 10 points. Denver entered the break still on top.
The Chargers got another field goal on the board after a promising drive stumbled at the Denver 32-yard line. Two consecutive runs by Joshua Kelley combined for one yard on second and third down which ultimately doomed the team’s momentum.
The third quarter came to a close without much in the way of events. In all, the Chargers’ drive which ended in three points was sandwiched by two score-less drives by the Broncos. Derwin James punctuated one of them with a sack he cleaned up after a Morgan Fox pressure and the offense was driving once again as the clock hit zeros.
On the first play of the final quarter, Austin Ekeler was stripped and the ball was recovered by Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell. Four plays later, the Chargers looked as if they had stopped the Broncos on fourth down with a great diving pass breakup by Alohi Gilman but the safety was called for DPI and that gave the Broncos the ball at the one-yard line.
Luckily, the Broncos went backwards with penalties on back-to-back plays. Scott Matlock recorded a tackle for loss on third down and the Broncos were forced to kick another field goal which gave them a 16-6 lead.
The Chargers followed that with a 12-play drive that went 43 yards before coming to a halt. Cameron Dicker came on to attempt another 50-yard field goal but defensive lineman Zach Allen got a hand on it which forced it into a wobble wide right.
After the Chargers forced another punt, they managed to pin another field goal up on the scoreboard to make it 16-9. The ensuing onside kick attempt ended in the arms of Broncos linebacker Alex Singleton and that was all she wrote.