CARSON, Calif. — A season ago, a win over the Chargers on the road jump started a winning streak that pushed the Broncos’ record back to .500.
After a 20-13 win on Sunday, the Broncos are hoping the same can be true in 2019.
Joe Flacco and the offense scored touchdowns on their first two drives, the defense forced three turnovers, the Broncos survived a series of Chargers red-zone opportunities and the defense made a pair of late stops to earn their first win of the season.
It didn’t come easy. The Broncos held a 17-0 lead at halftime but failed to score in the second half. This week, though, the defense held in key moments. The Chargers cut the lead to 17-10 with 6:47 to play, but the Broncos got a late stop and Brandon McManus hit a 45-yard field goal with 1:55 to play to essentially seal the game. Los Angeles added a field goal with 10 seconds to play but Joe Jones recovered the onside kick and the Broncos took a knee to end the game.
These were the moments, players and statistics that defined the game.
Just like they did in Week 4 against Jacksonville, the Broncos again built a double-digit first-half lead. But there were still plays the Broncos likely wish they could have back, specifically a strip-sack of Joe Flacco that prevented the Broncos from pushing their lead to three possessions early in the second quarter and a punt-return touchdown late in the third quarter. The Broncos, though, held on that drive after the Flacco fumble and tacked on a field goal to build their lead to 17-0. And as the first half wound down, Denver made its game-defining stand.
The Chargers took over with five minutes, 17 seconds to play at their own 25-yard line and drove the ball all the way to the Denver 3-yard line. On consecutive plays, the Broncos made sure they wouldn’t reach the end zone. First, Alexander Johnson stopped Austin Ekeler in the right flat after a 2-yard gain to force a fourth down. The Chargers decided to go for it and got Ekeler in space on the left side of the field. Safety Kareem Jackson met Ekeler at the goal line, though, and blasted the third-year running back. Ekeler lost control of the ball and fumbled out of the end zone for a touchback.
Instead of trimming the lead to 10 or 14 at the half, the Chargers came up with nothing and trailed 17-0 at the break. Though the two teams still had another half of football to play, the Jackson hit changed the course of the game. It also underlined a physical half of football that was a marked change from Denver’s defensive performance against Jacksonville in Week 4.
The Broncos later made another red-zone stop, as linebacker Alexander Johnson picked off Philip Rivers in the end zone to keep the Chargers scoreless. They also needed a fourth-quarter stop to prevent Los Angeles from tying the game, but it was Jackson’s hit that set the tone for Sunday.
The Broncos scored on their first possession of Sunday’s game after Jeff Heuerman and Phillip Lindsay each broke big plays. But they weren’t done after Lindsay’s opening 4-yard touchdown. On the team’s second possession, Flacco hit Courtland Sutton deep down the left sideline for a big gain. Sutton turned a potential 25-yard gain into a far better play, as he broke safety Rayshawn Jenkins’ tackle and took off. Sutton didn’t stop until he turned the catch into a 70-yard score. It was the Broncos’ longest offensive touchdown since Bennie Fowler scored a 76-yarder in November of 2016 against the Chiefs.
After the Broncos failed to force a turnover through their first four games of the season, they forced three on Sunday against the Chargers. Their rushing defense, though, may have been more impressive. A week after allowing 269 rushing yards, including 229 yards in the second half, Denver limited Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler to a combined 38 yards. The performance put the onus on Philip Rivers to make plays, and although he helped the Chargers drive the football at times, they couldn’t convert them into the points they needed. Ekeler did catch 15 passes for 86 yards, but the Broncos held him out of the end zone.
Safety Kareem Jackson tallied 10 tackles to go along with his forced fumble the week after sitting out with a hamstring injury. Linebacker Alexander Johnson, who started in place of Josey Jewell, saved a pair of touchdowns, as he added an end-zone interception after the earlier tackle of Ekeler.
On offense, running back Phillip Lindsay started strong with the early touchdown and then added a 32-yard and 13-yard runs on the Broncos’ final possession to put Brandon McManus in position for the game-clinching field goal. He finished the game with 114 yards on 15 carries and four catches for 33 yards. Sunday’s performance was Lindsay’s first 100-yard rushing output of the season.