CARSON, CA-The Los Angeles Chargers have won their share of close games this season. Whether it has been by a deflected pass in the back of the endzone against the Seattle Seahawks or rebuffing a two-point conversion by the Tennessee Titans at the end of the game or forcing a late turnover against the San Francisco 49ers, the Chargers have made the plays necessary to keep them in the hunt for a playoff berth.
On Sunday at StubHub Center, it was the other team that made the right moves down the stretch to preserve a victory. Unlike during their six-game win streak, which came to a screeching halt by the Denver Broncos’ 23-22 win on a last-second 34-yard field goal by Brandon McManus, the Chargers veered away from what they had been doing and went into a direction they had not visited in a quite a while.
“We can’t make mistakes,” Chargers running back Melvin Gordon III said after his 69-yard rushing day against the Broncos. “This is the NFL. This comes down to who executes the best. Every team is good and on any given Sunday, any team can lose regardless of streaks.”
The Chargers saw themselves on the losing end of the turnover battle and coming up with ways to self-implode by committing 14 infractions for 120 yards. Yet the Chargers, by all accounts and purposes, ruled over the Broncos in just about every other statistical category, except where it matters most-the win column.
“You know, you should’ve won the game,” Gordon said. “You had chances to put the game away and you come up short by making mistakes, penalties and kicking yourself in the foot. That makes it hurt a little bit more.”
The Chargers dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for over 37 minutes to Denver’s 22 minutes. Los Angeles held the edge in first downs (26-16), total yards (479-325), and the number of plays (72-52).
The Chargers even got a 401-yard, two touchdown performance from quarterback Philip Rivers. Despite all the positives that went their way, the Chargers (7-3) still were not able to seal the deal on what should have been their eighth win of the season.
“We say it every week — more games in this league lost than won, and today we lost that one,” Lynn said. “Not to take anything away from the Broncos, that team was ready to play. That team — you look at the losses and they all came to division leaders, so we knew that was a heck of a football team. We knew that at some point they were going to turn it around, and we were hoping it wasn’t today. 14 penalties for 120-yards — you have to be kidding me. Those are things we’ve stayed away from — penalties and turnovers — but they showed up today. For whatever reason, I don’t know. We’ll figure it out though.”
For a while, it looked like the Chargers had figured it out against the Broncos (4-6). The Chargers came into this contest as the hot team courtesy of their six-game win streak. The Broncos, on the other hand, have looked disheveled all season with their six defeats. Well, records don’t mean squat when these two ballclubs get together. They play each other tough. And physical.
“It’s a dogfight every time we see these boys,” said Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “Division game, we knew that we couldn’t afford to let another one slide. We just wanted to come out here and win. This team deserves a win. Guys put so much work, fighting every week, just ignoring the noise and staying together. We deserve to win the game.”
The one thing that you can count on when the Chargers and Broncos meet up for their twice-a-season meetings is that these two AFC West divisional rivals always seem to manage to bring an interesting element or two to their contests. You can always count on these teams to make the nervous system add a little bit more twitch to it with the adrenaline meter going up.
The Chargers had things going their way early, stretching a 13-7 lead into a 19-7 advantage late in the third period after Rivers connected with tight end Antonio Gates for a six-yard touchdown pass. Then disaster struck. Looking to pad their 12-point advantage, Rivers tried to fit in a pass over Denver outside linebacker Von Miller on a screen play late in the third quarter.
That didn’t work out too well as Miller sniffed out the play, made the interception, and swung the momentum Denver’s way. Royce Freeman’s three-yard plunge into the endzone would cut the Chargers’ lead to 19-14. Miller’s pick would be Rivers’ second interception on the day and turned out to be the most consequential errant throw he made.
“The coverage I had the back to the flat,” said Miller. “The back didn’t go to the flat, so I just fell off and I knew there were three receivers outside of me so I kind of just like stayed there for the screen and he threw it to me.”
Miller’s play marked a turning point in the game. Following the emotional lift of Freeman’s short touchdown run, Denver wound up outscoring the Chargers, 9-3, in the fourth quarter to win the ballgame. Rivers said the setback gives the Chargers the opportunity to get realigned to what the team wants to do.
“I think it’s just a chance to reset,” Rivers said. “I guess refocus can be said. But when you say refocus, that means you lost focus. But then, you can say that maybe [we] lose focus [today] with the penalties, the turnovers, the [miscommunications], and to not throw the ball away and manage the clock. But at the same time, I thought we had a great week of practice. So, I don’t think there was any falloff from our approach to the game, yet we had those mistakes. It can be a reminder that can help us, hopefully, without any awful consequences on the back end [of the season]. We need to get ready for an Arizona team coming here in a hurry and see if we can back on the right track.”