Whew. That game was the definition of a “roller coaster of emotions”, but Denver prevailed and with a 31-30 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. It seemed as though nothing was working for the Broncos in the first three quarters of this game, yet they were still able to overcome a 24-3 deficit to win. There’s a lot to unfold after this contest, so like always, let’s jump into our weekly Denver Broncos game recap and review.
The Broncos offense didn’t get the memo that the game started at 2:05, as they went three and out after the opening kickoff. However, Justin Simmons picked off rookie Justin Herbert on the Chargers first drive and set up the Broncos offense. A few lackluster plays led to a 35-yard field goal from Brandon McManus to put Denver up 3-0 early.
That 35-yard field goal from McManus would be the only points in the first quarter for either team. The Chargers picked up one first down before punting while the Broncos had another three and out. The first play of the second quarter was a fourth and one for the Chargers, but Joshua Kelley couldn’t get the first down. Dre’Mont Jones made a great play to stop Kelley.
More punts would follow the turnover on downs. The next three possessions all ended in punts, twice for Denver and once for Los Angeles. The Chargers and Herbert were finally able to get in rhythm and put together an 80-yard drive. A Keenan Allen touchdown catch from Herbert capped off the drive and put the Chargers up 7-3 with 1:48 left in the half. The Broncos continued to struggle and had another three and out. Right before halftime, Herbert threw his second touchdown pass to put LA up 14-3.
The Chargers opened up the second half with a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Mike Williams made a great one-handed catch for a touchdown to end the drive. With the Chargers up 21-3, the Broncos offense was still stuck in neutral. They had to punt again after another three and out. Los Angeles tacked on an additional field goal and was up 24-3 with 7:33 left in the third quarter.
Then something seemed to change for the Broncos. Phillip Lindsay finally broke free for a 55-yard touchdown that jumpstarted the offense. With the Broncos down 23-10, the defense was able to force another punt. Right when the Broncos had a chance, Lock threw an interception to Rayshawn Jenkins. Luckily, the Broncos responded with an interception of their own. This time it was Bryce Callahan making a great interception in the endzone.
The Broncos offense finally started to move the ball consistently. They marched down the field and Lock found his old college teammate, Albert Okwuegbunam. With only 11:42 left in the game, Denver closed the deficit to 24-17. However, the Chargers were able to burn some clock and get a field goal to add some insurance.
In just two plays, the Broncos found themselves in the endzone yet again. This time it was DaeSean Hamilton, who caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Lock. Denver crawled back to make it just a three point game with the Chargers leading 27-24. Los Angeles’ next drive had the same result as their last. A time consuming drive that ended in a field goal. Denver would get the ball back on their own 19 yard line down 30-24 with just 2:30 left in the game.
Lock would complete eight passes on the final drive, but the Chargers did a good job of keeping the ball in front of them. Most of Lock’s completions were just short check-down routes to running backs or tight ends. That being said, the Broncos were working their way down the field. Denver was also aided with two defensive pass interference calls, both of which kept the drive alive. The second call was with just one second remaining in the game in the endzone. On the final play, Lock rolled out to his right and found rookie KJ Hamler for the game winning touchdown. Hamler was able to get his butt down in-bounds to secure the win 31-30 over the Chargers.
After being down 24-3, this game seemed like a lost cause. However, Lock and the Broncos fought back and found a way to get a huge divisional win. The Broncos are now 3-4 on the season and will travel to Atlanta for their next game. The Chargers fall to 2-5 after blowing their third 17-point lead this season. They’ll host the Raiders next week.
In a game that had a walk-off winner and multiple three and outs, there is a lot to discuss this week. It was hard to be a Broncos fan for the first three quarters of this game, but the offense finally came alive in the fourth quarter. Like we do every week, here are my ten takeaways.
Philip Lindsay is RB1:
You may recognize this headline. If you do, it’s because I used it last week after the Chiefs game. Since Phillip Lindsay has returned from his toe injury, he has proven to be the most explosive player on the offense. In his return, he ran for over 100 yards. Last week he had a dominating 79 yards before exiting with a concussion. This week, he had 83 yards on just six carries. Not only was he averaging 13.8 yards per carry, but his 55-yard touchdown run changed the whole game. It’s head scratching seeing Melvin Gordon start drives, especially during the final possession this week. The Broncos need to Pheed Phil from here on out while Gordon moves to more of a secondary role. There’s no reason why Lindsay should only have six carries in a game, especially when you compare his stats to Gordon’s production (26 yards on eight carries).
Drew Lock Was Great When It Mattered:
What a tale of two halves for the young quarterback. Through the first three quarters, Lock went 12/23 for 93 yards with no touchdowns, one interception, and two sacks. It truly was uninspiring, ugly football from him and the entire offense. However, in the fourth quarter Lock flipped the switch. He went 14/18 for 155 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions or sacks in the final frame. His QB rating was 142.1 in the fourth quarter. Can you imagine if he played at that level the whole game? It would have been a blow-out. Lock needs to find some consistency. This was a great signature comeback win, but we can’t ignore the first three quarters of this game when Lock was getting booed. He is the leader of this young team, and apparently took control during halftime which is a great sign. Ideally, this ending helps him right the ship and he can continue to play at that fourth quarter level.
Offense as a Whole Struggled:
As I mentioned, it was a historic comeback for the Broncos. The offense turned on the heat at the end of the game and scored 28 unanswered points. However, we need to address the ugly aspects of this games too. Denver didn’t get a first down until the second quarter and only had two the entire first half. Yikes. The Broncos struggled to get anything going in the first half. There was no rhythm, no pressure, and no threat from this offense. It was sleepwalking until Lindsay’s big touchdown run. Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur was making questionable calls and the players weren’t executing. Overall, it was a bad combo. The comeback changed the narrative of the game, but the offense can’t afford any more stretches were they’re punting more often than they’re getting first downs moving forward.
Defense Won This Game:
The stat sheet might not look like a dominant defensive game, but Denver’s defense was able to keep this game within reach. Justin Herbert and the Chargers could have blown this game wide open, but Kareem Jackson and company had other plans. Two turnovers in the first quarter alone arguably saved this game. While it was more of a bend-don’t-break mentality, the Broncos were able to slow the Chargers down just enough. Los Angeles was only able to score six points in the fourth quarter keeping it close down the stretch. They continue to be the strength of this team.
But, The Run Defense Struggled:
That being said, if the defense struggled with one thing against the Chargers it was definitely the run. The Chargers had 210 rushing yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. This was the first game the Broncos have played since defensive lineman Mike Purcell’s season ending injury and it showed. Purcell is usually the main cog in the run game and was surely missed. Surprisingly the Chargers weren’t able to get a rushing touchdown, but the 210 yards is definitely a red flag. I’m sure Vic Fangio will stress the importance of stopping the run this week in practice.
Kareem Jackson Played Like A Wild Man:
Kareem Jackson was flying around the field on Sunday. The former Alabama safety led the team in tackles with 12 and was hunting for victims. Some of his hits hurt me through the television and reminded Broncos Country of Hall of Famer Steve Atwater. Unfortunately, one of his biggest hits was friendly fire and knocked out A.J. Bouye, who is now in concussion protocol. I obviously don’t want to see any player get hurt, but it’s so fun to see Jackson lay the wood like the good old days. I truly believe that Jackson and fellow safety Justin Simmons are the best tandem in the NFL. They complement each other so well and both make big plays whenever needed. Fellow defensive back Bryce Callahan also had a great game, and has had a strong season after a lost year in 2019. All of them will need to continue their strong plays moving forward.
Justin Herbert is Going To Be a Problem:
The Broncos can’t catch a break in the AFC West. Not only do they have to see Patrick Mahomes twice a year, but now it looks like Justin Herbert will be a fixture for the Chargers. Herbert, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 draft, has looked great in his first few games. Herbert has thrown for 3+ touchdowns in four of his six games. I know John Elway always had his eyes on Herbert at Oregon and I truly believe that if Herbert had entered the draft a year earlier, he would be wearing orange right now. Only time will tell if this he’s just a flash in the pan, but he’s sure off to a promising start.
Congratulations KJ Hamler:
What a great time to have your first career NFL touchdown. With no time remaining, KJ Hamler was the recipient of the game-winning touchdown pass from Lock. Hamler had two other receptions, but none were bigger than the one-yard catch to win it all. Hamler’s former Penn State teammate DaeSean Hamilton also deserves some love. Hamilton led the team with 82 receiving yards and scored a critical touchdown in the fourth quarter. Hamler, Hamilton, and Jerry Jeudy are a young core that will continue to grow throughout the season.
This is a Really Young Team:
I know it’s been said many times, especially during the offseason. But, this team’s youth is so intriguing to me. There were four rookies in the huddle on the final drive. That’s crazy. As Drew Lock described it, it’s a huddle full of baby faces, including himself. Without a preseason, a normal offseason, and countless injuries, this team has had to build chemistry on the fly. This seemed to be a breakthrough moment to me. I expect this team to just continue getting better as they get to play more with each other, especially the offense,. Not to mention Courtland Sutton will be joining this young offensive core next season. This has been a very weird year, but It’s so exciting to see the foundation.
ATL Next Week:
The Broncos will see the Falcons next, instead of their initially scheduled bye week. While Atlanta’s had a tough 2020, they seem to be moving in the right direction. They are one Todd Gurley brain fart away from being 3-0 since firing Dan Quinn. That being said, this is a very winnable game for the Broncos. Winning next week will make them 4-4 halfway through the season and put them right in the playoff hunt. The defense will need to contain Julio Jones, which will be especially tough if Bouye isn’t ready. Offensively, the Broncos need to build off of their fourth quarter and move the ball consistently. I fully expect the Broncos to come out strong after such an exciting win.
Let me know what you thought of the Chargers game and what you will be watching next week over on Twitter @gardenSPORTZ