A pair of comebacks bookended the opening week of the NFL season. But, unlike the Chiefs’ fourth-quarter rally Monday night, which included 21 unanswered fourth quarter points and gave Kansas City a runaway 42-27 victory over the Patriots, the Chargers’ comeback in Denver Monday night fell a fingertip or two short of glory.
The fingers that blew the Chargers’ narrative belong to Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris, who blocked a 44-yard, game-tying field goal try by Los Angeles kicker Younghoe Koo, a South Korean-born rookie out of Georgia Southern, with one second left in the game.
Koo nailed the kick the first time he tried it, but Denver head coach Vance Joseph, who made his debut NFL head-coaching debut Monday after spending 2016 as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, had called a timeout just before the snap.
”I had two timeouts and I wasn’t going to leave with those in my pocket,” Joseph said per an Associated Press report on FoxSports.com.
Both Harris and Koo were at a loss to explain the block.
”I was just focusing on the kick,” said Koo. ”I don’t know how it got blocked. It felt good off the foot. I’ll just have to watch film.”
Harris said: “I’m going to be real with you: I have no clue what happened. I felt it. I just couldn’t tell you where I felt it.”
Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers had a clear view of the proceedings from the LA sideline. ”It’s too bad because Koo drilled the first one,” he said. ”And they called timeout and I think he drilled the second one, too. At least, that’s what it looked like to me because it was going right down the middle. And I think if we get to OT, we would have finished it off, but we didn’t get that chance.”
Indeed, LA had all the momentum as the teams lined up for the final play, though the reverse was true for the first three quarters of the game, during which Denver held Rivers to 115 passing yards just one touchdown (which came at the start of the second quarter after a 40-yard pass interference penalty against Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby), the AP notes.
Roby made up for his miscue on LA’s first drive after halftime. He intercepted a Rivers pass at midfield, paving the way for a six-play, 43-yard touchdown drive by the Denver offense.
Broncos quarterback Trevor Simian, whom the Broncos drafted in 2015 but who didn’t see many snaps until Peyton Manning retired after the 2015-2016 season, threw for two touchdowns—both short-yardage deliveries to Bennie Fowler—and ran in for one.
Siemian completed 16 of 25 passes for 175 yards over the first three quarters of play.
Midway through the third quarter, he engineered a 14-play, 78-yard drive that took over four minutes off the clock. He went 5-6 with 65 yards on the series.
The only incompletion came on third and goal from the two after a pair of runs had failed to yield the one yard necessary for the touchdown. McManus added a field goal from old-school-extra-point distance as time expired in the third quarter.
Then, in the fourth, the Chargers exploded on both sides of the ball, creating two turnovers, both of which Rivers converted into touchdowns.
Cornerback Adrian Phillips generated the first of LA’s takeaways, jumping in front of Fowler for an interception on Denver’s second offensive play of the quarter. Rivers took over at the Broncos’ 43-yard line and completed four of five passes for 39 yards. The last of the completions was a five-yard touchdown toss to fifth-year wideout Keenan Allen.
Running back Jamaal Charles, who made his Broncos debut Monday after nine years with Kansas City, fumbled on the second play of the ensuing possession, and Rivers immediately delivered a 38-yard touchdown strike to Travis Benjamin. Koo’s extra point sailed through the goal posts, and the Chargers were within three.
Simian responded with a 44-yard completion to Virgil Green—who is entering his seventh season with the Broncos—that was augmented by a roughing the passer penalty against Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram. The 59-yard pickup put the Broncos in the red zone, but Ingram recorded 1.5 sacks in two plays (he teamed with Joey Bosa for the first takedown) to force a 50-yard field goal try, which Denver kicker Brandon McManus pushed wide right.
So, the Chargers took over from their own 33 but stalled in five plays. After an LA punt, Denver went three and out, and punted from its own 22 to LA’s 38.
Rivers went 3-6 for just 17 yards on the following series, but Roby committed his second pass interference infraction of the game, which cost Denver 17 yards and set the Chargers up at the Broncos’ 34-yard line. From there, Rivers found Allen for eight yards to set the stage for Koo’s 44-yard try.
Then, Harris, who, according to the AP, only started because Zach Curr and Jared Crick were nursing injuries, spoiled the Chargers’ fairy tale with a finger or two.
”It was a little too exciting,” said Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who had four tackles in the game, per the AP. ”But a win is a win.”
The Broncos will face the Cowboys in Denver next Sunday. Dallas beat the New York Giants 19-3 in Week 1.
The Chargers will host the Dolphins in LA. Miami’s Week 1 matchup with Tampa Bay was postponed due to Hurricane Irma.
Featured image via Flickr/Daniel Spiess