Broncos score vs. Chargers takeaway: Dustin Hopkins battles injury to hit walk-in FG, lifts LA above Denver

Broncos score vs. Chargers takeaway: Dustin Hopkins battles injury to hit walk-in FG, lifts LA above Denver

It took almost an entire extra quarter, but the Chargers edged their AFC West rival, the Broncos, on Monday night. Neither club has enjoyed much success with the ball in hand in the spotlight, with Justin Herbert scattered while throwing nearly 60 times and Russell Wilson struggling to connect downfield after arguably his best opener for a game with Denver. In the end, however, Brandon Staley’s team got the better of Nathaniel Hackett, with a fumble recovered on a missed punt late in overtime giving Los Angeles the ball deep in Broncos territory. Kicker Dustin Hopkins sealed the deal with a 39-yard field goal in the Chargers’ 19-16 win, even after looking to aggravate an injury on his first kick of the night.

Both teams entered the prime-time affair with major question marks. Denver had struggled to establish an offensive rhythm despite the highly anticipated Wilson-Hackett team, losing star running back Javonte Williams to a season-ending injury in Week 4. seemed to fade early in Monday’s game, with Wilson starting 10 for 10, only to resurface afterwards.

The Chargers, meanwhile, had failed to put up a consistent defensive performance despite Staley originating on that side of the ball. Their efforts were improved against Denver, even with passing thrower Joey Bosa sidelined with injury and prized offseason addition JC Jackson was benched at halftime after returned several deep shots from Wilson.

Here are some more takeaways from Monday night’s AFC West showdown:

Why the Chargers won

Dustin Hopkins. OK, so there was more to it, but no one deserves more credit than the veteran kicker, who missed Week 5 with a hamstring injury, aggravated that injury on his first extra point of the night, then went on to go 4-for-4 on field goals, including 39 yards to give the Chargers their first and final lead. He was clearly in pain, but he delivered.

Justin Herbert deserves praise for bringing Hopkins closer in the last series, although the quarterback was altogether more erratic and indecisive than usual, working on a seemingly conservative game plan and without several key inputs, namely receiver Keenan Allen and center Corey Linsley. Austin Ekeler, though bottled up for much of the night, at least served as a steady outlet, logging 10 catches to help move the ball into dinks and dunks.

The defense was even better, putting in perhaps its most impressive outing of the year, but against a Broncos team that got stuck in the mud. The unit totaled seven tackles for loss while drilling Wilson on multiple touches, with linebacker Drue Tranquill blazing intact on a fourth-quarter blitz to force a punt. Special teams also arrived, with Ja’Sir Taylor cleverly forcing Broncos special team PJ Locke into his own returning man, Montrell Washington; the play forced a fumble that set up the Chargers’ final drive in Denver territory.

Why the Broncos lost

It’ll be easy to pin this one on Washington, the rookie returner, who failed to get the punt at the end of overtime, but anyone who watched from start to finish knows that “L” – par for the course – came as much, if not more, from Hackett’s attack. Wilson looked the most comfortable he’d been all year out of the gate, taking shots on the field on the go, but deep balls from KJ Hamler – or anyone, by the way – were short-lived. Between 10 penalties, Denver went a meager 4 for 14 on third downs, failing to involve Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy when it mattered. It didn’t help that Wilson had little time to throw or held the ball too long late in the contest, or that Hackett deployed Mike Boone sparingly, seemingly the most dynamic of the backs left to replace Javonte Williams.

It’s a shame Denver couldn’t once again move the ball and/or complete drives after the promising start, as the team’s defense threatened to win the game themselves. With six of their own tackles for the loss, nine pass deflections and a spike performance from star cornerback Patrick Surtain II that effectively erased Mike Williams from Herbert’s vision, Denver’s “D” could only watch time go by and his own offense couldn’t put points on the board.

Turning

It was undoubtedly when Ja’Sir Taylor blocked his man in Montrell Washington on the OT punt return. But you could also say it was when Herbert came out of the pocket to deliver a nine-yard strike to Mike Williams that gave Hopkins the 39-yard game-winning shot. Herbert, again, didn’t have a great night, notably throwing himself into traffic with just over 10 minutes left in regulation and getting picked up by Baron Browning. But he was on target in the final minutes of OT, and that’s all that mattered.

Game of the game

It’s Taylor again. Give credit to the special team! If officials had looked at one of Mike Williams’ few targets in the field, in which he lay and nearly reached two feet in bounds while going to ground, this might have been the highlight of the evening. But Taylor’s awareness of essentially blocking a Broncos player in a muffled punt was key.

And after

The Broncos (2-4) return home in Week 7 for a matchup with the scorching Jets (4-2), who upset the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday. The Chargers (4-2), meanwhile, will stay in Los Angeles to host the Seahawks (3-3), who beat the rival Cardinals to stay tied at the top of the NFC West.


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