Chargers score vs. Broncos: Los Angeles overtakes Denver, stays alive for playoff berth
The Los Angeles Chargers rebounded from their disappointing Week 16 loss to the Houston Texans by beating divisional rival Denver Broncos 34-13.
The Chargers got back to the playoff position with the win and are now in control of their own destiny heading into the last game of the regular season. LA got off to a quick start and, at one point, was leading up to 28 points, and practically ran away with the game.
Justin Herbert finished the afternoon with 237 passing yards and two touchdowns, while Austin Ekeler totaled 112 yards and two scores on his 20 touches. The Los Angeles defense kept the Denver running backs 73 yards on 24 carries, turning an area that is usually a weakness into a strength for at least a week.
That, combined with timely turnovers both on the downs and via fumbles, led the Chargers to a resounding victory that put them in position to clinch a playoff berth next week.
Why the Chargers won
Austin Ekeler makes a great game of individual effort and special team domination. Andre Roberts got things started by flipping the 67-yard opening kickoff into Broncos territory. This led to LA’s first touchdown of the game, which was an Ekeler dive from 3 yards. Roberts later responded to a Broncos field goal by returning the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a score, extending the Chargers’ lead to three touchdowns. Ekeler had some excellent catch-and-run plays, including a 40-yard one that he showed exceptional balance to keep his knee on the ground and gain a lot more yards.
Why the Broncos lost
Not only did the Broncos have the aforementioned two issues with special teams, but they also had a missed punt late in the second quarter, which led to the Chargers’ second touchdown. The Broncos themselves have wasted several scoring opportunities. They returned the ball on the downs three times, including once inside the 5-yard line. (They tried out a Philly Special-esque game that blew up by Nasir Adderley.) They also had a touchdown erased from the board by an illegal formation penalty, and ended up settling for a basket instead. Additionally, the running game that is meant to be a team force was rather a handicap throughout the competition, as neither Melvin Gordon nor Javonte Williams could ever really be ignored.
There were actually quite a few turning points in this game. We can start with the opening kickoff, which Roberts returned 67 yards and gave the Chargers a great start. We can also go for the Broncos’ first failed fourth conversion, although LA didn’t capitalize on it. There’s the missed punt, the Denver Special missed near the goal line, the failed third conversion of the fourth down, the penalty that canceled a touchdown run, the return touchdown from the 101-yard kickoff. , the huge pass to Mike Williams to make it a four-scoring game. The Chargers made a lot of big plays, and they all helped put the game out of reach.
Let’s go with two pieces. Why not, no? The game was a blast, after all. First up, here’s the 40-yard Ekeler catch-and-run that we mentioned above. The contact balance needed to keep your knee on the ground after the initial hit is a high level trick.
If that play doesn’t float your boat, take a look at Roberts’ 101-yard return, which essentially put the game out of reach for good.
That was left untouched during the first two levels of the cover team, then a cut to hit the jets and get past everyone including the kicker and all the way to the end zone. It’s a game-changing special teams game.
The win takes the Chargers’ record to 9-7 with a week left in the regular season. They haven’t officially clinched a playoff berth, but they can do so by beating the Las Vegas Raiders next week. With the Chiefs having already finished AFC West, the Chargers will make the playoffs as a wild card team or not at all.
The loss brought the Broncos down to 7-9 that year, and they were officially eliminated from the playoffs. Their Week 18 opponent is the Chiefs, and the Broncos have a chance to dampen their rival’s hopes of a first-round pass and a field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. .