If there were any doubts the Denver Broncos were going to try to suffocate opponents with a methodical, clock-killing running attack and an aggressive, big play-oriented defense, the team put them to bed on Monday Night Football. While this was a recipe for dominance early in the game, turnovers, and penalties turned what could have been a statement win into an eked-it-out battle, the fourth quarter of which everybody in Denver, outside of Shelby Harris, will be happy to forget.
The Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers, 24-21, and earned their first win in what should be a hard-fought battle for the AFC West title. In the fourth quarter, Philip Rivers led Los Angeles to 14 consecutive points and pulled within three of Denver, but the Broncos held them off with a pair of late defensive stops and a blocked field goal by Harris, the game’s hero.
The Chargers got the ball for the last time down by three, with two minutes on the clock and the ball on their own 38. Eight plays, 36 yards, two timeouts and a nullified field goal later thanks to a timely timeout by Broncos head coach Vance Joseph, rookie kicker Younghoe Koo faced his first NFL test: a 44-yarder to send his team to overtime. Shelby Harris slipped through the center of Los Angeles’ line and got a finger on the kick, enough to send it wide and seal a heart-stopping Denver victory.
Denver’s Trevor Siemian-led offense was potent in the first half, despite a slow start. After their first series stalled at six plays, the Broncos rattled off two touchdown drives before the end of the half; a 13-play, 70-yard gem that culminated with a Bennie Fowler touchdown grab, and a nine-play, 65-yard drive ending with a short touchdown jaunt from Siemian, who put the moves on Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa.
The second half was a different story for the Broncos’ offense. After scoring 10 points on their first two series out of the half, Denver’s offense stalled again. An interception from Siemian that bounced off the feet of two players and a maybe-maybe-not fumble by Jamaal Charles gave the Chargers a chance to make a game out of what was almost a blowout at Mile High Stadium.
With under 11 minutes left in the game, Adrian Phillips intercepted Siemian, but the Chargers saw themselves in a 24-7 hole. Rivers took over at Denver’s 43-yard line and drove Los Angeles down the field in under 2 1/2 minutes for a touchdown, giving Los Angeles life and cutting the score to 24-14.
With seven minutes left, the Chargers’ offense took the field again after the Charles fumble staring down the barrel of a 10-point deficit. This drive only took one play; a 38-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin who found space on the side of the end zone against Denver’s zone coverage and the Charges recorded their final points of the night in a hasty lead-up to Monday night’s dramatic finish.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Shelby Harris, of course.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Shelby Harris blocked the potential game-tying field goal from Younghoe Koo, the Chargers’ 23-year-old rookie kicker. Harris wiggled through the middle of the Los Angeles line and got his hand up high enough to tip the 44-yarder short and wide left. Harris was a longshot to make the Broncos’ roster this year after spending his first three NFL seasons primarily on practice squads. Not only did Harris notch his first career start Monday night, he also sealed the victory for Denver.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
“A win’s a win. We’ll take it.” -Vance Joseph
BY THE NUMBERS
54- Total rushing yards from Melvin Gordon, after shredding Denver for 94 and 111 yards last season.
140- Rushing yards from the Denver offense. C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles each averaged at least four yards per carry.
2- Touchdown receptions by Bennie Fowler, matching his career total prior to Monday night.
Some dubbed the Broncos’ contest against the Chargers a must-win game for Denver. While the first game of the year is far from a must-win, every AFC West matchup this season has serious playoff implications since the best division in football won’t be won with fewer than 11 wins.
vs. Cowboys; Sun, Sept. 17, 2:25 p.m. MST, FOX
The Cowboys looked great on Sunday when they beat the Giants 19-3. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot both put together solid nights, but the second-year duo was far from dominant. Dallas’ strength lay in their defense, which held New York to 220 passing yards and 35 yards on the ground. Commentators will talk up the star-studded battle between the Cowboys’ offense and the Broncos defense, but the real deciding factor will be whether Denver can move the ball as efficiently against Dallas as they did against Los Angeles.