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Broncos fall to Chargers, 19-16 in overtime

Broncos' Russell Wilson started 10 of 10, but cooled from inactivity as Chargers dominated time of possession.
Credit: AP
Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack (52) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers figured out how to cool down Russell Wilson.

Don’t let him have the ball.

After the quarterback Wilson directed the Broncos to a 10-0, first quarter lead, the Chargers and their own talented quarterback Justin Herbert pretty much controlled the ball from there, rallying to win the AFC West game in overtime, 19-16.

It was an accidental muffed punt -- P.J. Locke was blocked into his own returner Montrell Washington, who fell back as the punt hit him -- that set up the Chargers' winning field goal in overtime, a 39-yarder right down the middle by Hopkins, who kicked four field goals after he suffered a strained hamstring.

"It was a short punt and we need to make a call to let (Locke) know he has to move,'' said Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett. "P.J. went to engage into a block and unfortunately got pushed into Montrell."

It was the second overtime loss in as many games for the Broncos, who have lost three in a row overall. Their record is now 2-4 and the team appears headed for another disappointing season. Playoffs? Don't even start.

The Chargers, who never led until Hopkins kicked his fourth field goal with 2:38 left in overtime, improved to 4-2. 

“That’s a good football team over there but I feel like we’re just as good if not better,'' said Wilson, who after throwing for 173 yards in the first half, added a measly 15 more in the second half and overtime. "We’ve got to answer the call. ... I feel like we should have won that game tonight."

An interception -- and recovery of his own fumble during the return -- by Broncos' edge rusher Baron Browning set up a 48-yard field goal by Brandon McManus to give the Broncos a 16-13 lead with 8:21 left in the fourth quarter.

But the Chargers answered with another sustained drive that ended with a third short-range field goal by Hopkins, who was making his kicks despite grimacing in pain after each make.

Anyone who tuned in to the Broncos' fourth primetime appearance in six games would have found it surprising the Chargers weren't up by at least two scores. After the first quarter, the Chargers dominated time of possession as at one point they converted 8 consecutive third downs.

The Chargers snapped 83 offensive plays to the Broncos' 55 and had 24 first downs (7 by penalty) to the Broncos' 13.

Wilson and the Broncos' offense had two offensive possessions in overtime but both ended with three-and-out punts. A third possession was lost with the muffed punt.

“This is very disappointing,'' Hackett said of his offensive ineptitude after the first quarter. "We need to have a lot more urgency across the board. It starts with me as a coach. Going to all the other coaches and then the platyers. The players need to be just more urgent.”

To open overtime, the Broncos tried to get their running game going with new lead back Latavius Murray, who had 63 yards on 13 carries. But on third-and-1, Wilson threw low, incomplete.

Wilson, coming off a rough game 11 days earlier in a 12-9 overtime loss to Indianpolis, was 15 of 28 for 188 yards. But that meant he was only 5 of 18 for 72 yards after the first quarter and was sacked 4 times.

Wilson could not have put together a better first quarter. He was 10 of 10, including consecutive completions of 37 yards off a scramble to Jerry Jeudy, then a pocket step up and a 39-yard floater to a wide open Greg Dulcich for a touchdown. It was Dulcich’s first NFL touchdown and it came in the rookie tight end’s NFL debut.

“It just kind of worked out,'' Dulcich said. "Yeah it was a good hit. It was definitely special I had a lot of family here. It was a cool experience.’’ 

A 4-point underdog, the Broncos were up 10-0 at the game’s first break as McManus nailed a 51-yard field goal to finish the first drive. McManus came through on the first NFL long snap delivered by Mitchell Fabroni, who was signed this week to replace the Broncos’ regular long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer, who suffered a fractured thumb in the previous game against Indianapolis.

But on the Chargers’ ensuing possession, the Denver D couldn’t get off the field. The Chargers converted four third downs (none longer than 5 yards) and kept the ball for 15 plays and 7 minutes, 40 seconds before Austin Ekeler was pushed into the end zone with a strong 6-yard carry.

Ekeler is a 2013 high school graduate of Eaton before playing four seasons at Western Colorado. The Chargers were within, 10-7.

At one point, the Chargers had converted 8 consecutive third downs, two on pass interference penalties called on Broncos’ rookie cornerback Damarri Mathis. Filling in for the injured Ronald Darby, the fifth-round Mathis needs help. He was called for three pass interference penalties in the first half, the first two for a combined 66 yards, a big reason why the Broncos had 151 penalty yards -- the most in the 52-year history of Monday Night Football.

Tell it like it is, Howard.

“I’ve got to clean up my technique,'' said Mathis, who had four pass interference penalties in all, for 87 yards. “I’ve got to clean up my technique. I felt like I was in position the whole way. But I’ve got to get my head turned around and find the ball. I’ve got to keep working to get better at that.''

The Broncos next play the resurgent New York Jets on Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High. To wrap up his post-game press conference, Wilson addressed his strained right shoulder that received an injection 10 days ago, then the state of the team.

“The shoulder did good,'' said Wilson, who also suffered a pulled hamstring in the fourth quarter against the Chargers. "But listen I think the only thing that matters is us winning. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The only thing that matters is us winning and finding our way. We’ve been through tough times before. I know we can come out on the other side. We’ve got too many good football players and guys that work their butts off every day. So we’ve got to make that happen. There’s no excuse for it we’ve got to find a way. Again I thought we did some really good things. But there are things we should have tightened up and done better. What I’m focused on is finding a way to kleep doing the good things that we were doing and how do we keep doing those things. Tonight was unfortunate. We should have won that game it felt like. We’ve got to keep going.’’

And then for the first time since he became a Bronco, Wilson did not end his press conference with his patented "Let's Ride." He understands now is not the time for catchy phrases.

The Broncos had missed the postseason the previous six seasons and they entered 2022 with five consecutive losing records. Wilson was supposed to change all that. Instead, high expectations have only served to make this the most disappointing start to a season yet.

With an offense averaging a paltry 15.2 points per game, the Broncos aren't riding anywhere but to another frustrating season.

Murray replaces Melvin 

Melvin Gordon III started the game and had three carries for 8 yards through the Broncos' first offensive series of the game. He didn't see the field again as Hackett stuck with Murray.

Gordon was noticeably upset in the locker room afterwards but bit his tongue when asked by a 9NEWS reporter if he had anything to say how about how the game played out with the running back playing time.

"I don't,'' Gordon said. "It's too bad we lost. Latavius had a great game for only being here a week or so. Unfortunately we lost the game and I couldn't get out there to help my team and that just sucks, man."

Offensive line shakeup 

Calvin Anderson started in place of the injured Garett Bolles at left tackle. Dalton Risner needed a cortisone shot to overcome a midweek back issue to continue starting at left guard. Quinn Meinerz returned from his hamstring injury and started at right guard for the first time since the season opener. Cam Fleming staved off Billy Turner to continue starting at right tackle.

Strangely, the Broncos switched this alignment after they went up, 10-0. As was the plan going in, Turner was brought in for a couple series at right tackle while Fleming played a couple series at left tackle. Turner, out since undergoing left knee surgery in February, entered the game for the first time this season on the Broncos’ third possession.

“It was my first live action since January,'' Turner said. "I’ve got a lot to fix but, it’s a start. Everyone else has been playing for six months or so. It’s a lot to come back from injuries but a lot to build on. I went out there and got my feet wet again. Just trying to dig in and tap back into the stuff I’ve been doing the last eight, nine years and trying to help this offense, help this team the best that I can.”

Instead of breaking in with a couple series, Turner finished the game at right tackle and Fleming played left tackle.

“Things don’t always go the way you expect it to,'' Turner said. "It’s unfortunate that we lost but the good thing is we’ve got another opportunity in six days.” …

Bronco Bits

Inside linebacker Alex Singleton, filling in again for the injured Josey Jewell, was sensational, making 19 solo tackles and 21 tackles overall. Those are Randy Gradishar game numbers from 1977.

"It's tough because it's a team game,'' Singleton said. "We got an 'L.' We've just got to keep putting everybody in the right position. Defense showed a lot of heart in that game, but penalties killed us or we could have played an even better game." ...

Rookie defensive lineman Matt Henningsen, a sixth-round draft pick from Wisconsin, registered the first sack of his career when he dropped Herbert for a 7-yard loss in the second quarter. ... 

Baron Browning also had a sack, giving him 2.5 in the past two games. ... 

Justin Simmons was back as the starting safety after missing the previous four games with a quad injury. He made six tackles. …

Dulcich made his NFL debut after missing training camp, the preseason and the Broncos’ first five games with a hamstring injury. He had two catches for 44 yards and the touchdown at halftime.

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