April 23, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Last-minute field goal lifts Chargers to 19-16 win over Broncos

It has been this sort of season for the roller-coaster Chargers:

On Sunday, they blew another double-digit lead but won anyway when their once-maligned defense was just stingy enough, their seventh-ranked offense was only so-so and their imperfect kicker was, well, perfect.

They beat Denver 19-16 at SoFi Stadium for their third consecutive victory in a season fraught with frustration but ending on an uptick that seemed more than unlikely just before Thanksgiving.

“We’ve been through a lot this year,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “It’s been a very unusual season for us. But I think it’s made them stronger. I love the way they’re finishing down the stretch. We plan on doing the same thing next week.”

The Chargers have been able to pull out of what was a harrowing spiral by taking advantage of a softer portion of their schedule.

They’ll conclude next Sunday at Kansas City in a game that means nothing in the standings. The Chiefs just clinched the AFC’s top seed with a 17-14 win over Atlanta.

Depending on how much Kansas City plays its starters, the Chargers will have a shot at a fourth win in a row and a 7-9 finish, a stark reversal from when they were playing poorly enough to have a top-five pick in the 2021 draft.

“As tough as that stretch was, I think we got better from it,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “We learned from it. … I think we’ve played some pretty good football over these past three weeks.”

Michael Badgley’s 37-yard field goal with 41 seconds remaining provided the final margin Sunday.

He helped prevent the Chargers from losing for a fifth time this season after opening a double-figure advantage. They led Denver 13-0 at halftime and 16-3 early in the fourth quarter.

Denver Broncos defensive end Dre’Mont Jones tugs on the jersey of Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert during the first half.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers have won their last four one-score decisions. Before the streak, they were 2-16 in such games dating to last season and had lost seven straight.

Badgley entered with an NFL-worst 12 missed kicks — nine field goals and three extra points. But he was five for five in the game, an effort that included four field goals.

“Typical Mike,” Lynn said. “He bounced back. He’s a tough young man … mentally tough. We expected him to bounce back and he did.”

Defensively, the Chargers not only shut out the Broncos into the third quarter but also limited them to one touchdown in four red-zone trips. One of those stops was a Casey Hayward end-zone interception in the first quarter.

The Chargers came into the game missing their top three pass rushers. Joey Bosa, who has been in concussion protocol, was inactive, while Melvin Ingram and Uchenna Nwosu are on season-ending injured reserve.

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon is tackled by Chargers middle linebacker Denzel Perryman during the second half.

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon is tackled by Chargers middle linebacker Denzel Perryman during the second half.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Against Denver, they also lost Hayward to a hamstring injury and safety Rayshawn Jenkins to an ankle problem.

On offense, they produced only one touchdown, Herbert hitting Austin Ekeler for a nine-yard score midway through the second quarter. As with the Broncos, the Chargers also were one for four in the red zone.

That one score was historic as Herbert set the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes in a season with 28.

“Pretty cool statistic,” Herbert said. “Just glad we got the win.”

After opening his career with seven losses in eight starts, Herbert has led the Chargers to victory on their final drive in each of the last three games. He became only the fourth rookie to do so in the Super Bowl era.

“To me, he’s not a rookie,” linebacker Denzel Perryman said. “You see what he’s doing, decisions that he’s making, the plays that he’s doing. I haven’t seen a rookie do any of that.”

Herbert, who finished 21 of 33 for 253 yards, also joined Patrick Mahomes as the only players in league history to top 4,000 passing yards through the first 14 starts of a career.

And he and the Chargers played Sunday without their top two pass-catchers. Because of a hamstring injury, Keenan Allen missed his first game since 2016. Tight end Hunter Henry was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list Thursday.

But the Chargers won anyway, clinching the victory when — befitting “a very unusual season” — 6-foot-4 wide receiver Mike Williams, deployed as a defensive back, intercepted Drew Lock’s Hail Mary attempt at the goal line.

“I thought that was a great idea,” Herbert said. “If anyone’s going to go up and get the ball, it’s going to be Mike Williams.”