CARSON, Calif. – Denver had lost six of their last seven going into Sunday’s game against Los Angeles, but Chargers coach Anthony Lynn kept warning everyone that the Broncos were dangerous because they had been in most of their games until the final minute.
Lynn’s words became prophetic as Brandon McManus kicked a last-second 34-yard field goal to give the Broncos a 23-22 win and snap the Chargers’ six-game winning streak.
“We’ve been in four or five of these games and didn’t make enough plays to win. Today we didn’t hope to win, we made plays to win,” Denver coach Vance Joseph said.
Denver got the ball at its own 8 with 1:51 remaining, and Case Keenum orchestrated a seven-play, 76-yard drive. Keenum, who was 19-of-32 for 205 yards, completed five passes for 86 yards during the drive, including a 30-yarder to Courtland Sutton to the Denver 16. Keenum then spiked the ball and McManus’ kick split the uprights.
It was McManus’ second game-winning field goal this season and the fifth of his career. It also helped erase memories of two weeks ago, when his 51-yard attempt went wide right as time expired in a 19-17 loss to Houston.
“I think we’ve had three or four close ones that have come down to it and Brandon has made those kicks and we trust him,” Keenum said. “It feels good. A lot better than the alternative.”
Wide receiver Keenan Allen, who had nine receptions for 89 yards and a TD, succinctly summed up why the Chargers (7-3) lost when he said, “Penalties. Turnovers. Not making plays at the end of the game.”
Philip Rivers, who threw for 401 yards, had two interceptions and Los Angeles committed 14 penalties, including 10 in the first half. Mike Badgley, who made three field goals, also missed an extra point that ended up looming large.
“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,” coach Anthony Lynn said.
Denver’s talented rookie offensive trio of Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Sutton had big games.
Lindsay had 11 carries for 79 yards with two touchdowns. His 41-yard TD run early in the second quarter, which put Denver up 7-6, was set up the play before when the Broncos successfully executed a fake punt with punter Colby Waldman throwing a 12-yard pass to fullback Andy Janovich for a first down. It was the second consecutive week the Chargers allowed a fake punt.
The undrafted rookie also had a 2-yard TD on a direct snap early in the fourth quarter to give Denver a 20-19 lead.
“We knew that going in that they were physical and athletic, but for us, we just went out there and knew we needed to be physical, too,” Lindsay said. “We knew that we were going to have run the ball in order for us to win this game.”
Freeman, who missed two games with an ankle injury, had seven carries for 23 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown to bring the Broncos within 19-14.
Three plays earlier, Von Miller swung momentum back in Denver’s favor when he picked off Rivers on a screen pass and returned it 40 yards to the Chargers’ 18. It was Miller’s first interception in a regular-season game since 2012.
“The interception turned the game around, to me. That spun the whole game,” Rivers said. “It was about to be a blowout, and he made that play, and then it’s a touchdown and then all of a sudden he made it a game.”
Sutton tied a career high with 78 yards on three catches.
Rivers, who had his 11th 400-yard passing game, completed 28-of-43, but it was the seventh time the Chargers have lost when he has passed for over 400.
The 15-year veteran became the sixth quarterback in league history to throw at least two touchdown passes in each of his team’s first 10 games to start a season. He eluded the blitz and threw a 4-yard pass to a wide-open Allen late in the second quarter to put Los Angeles on top 13-6. He then threw a 6-yard TD to Antonio Gates on the opening possession of the second half.
Melvin Gordon had 158 yards from scrimmage (89 rushing, 69 receiving), marking the sixth consecutive game he has had 130 yards or more.
UP NEXTBroncos: Host the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday.
Chargers: Host the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday.