Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers recovered from a slow start to beat the Broncos 23-9 Sunday for their first win in Denver since 2013.
The Chargers (12-4) are headed to the playoffs for the first time in five years, but they’ll go in as a wild-card thanks to a last-second loss to the Broncos at home in November.
Were it not for that slip-up, the Chargers and not the Kansas City Chiefs would have earned No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and the first-round bye that comes with it.
Rivers was just 14 of 34 for 176 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions. Both interceptions came in the first quarter, something that’s happened just twice before in Rivers’ 15-year NFL career.
Instead, the Chargers will hit the road on wild-card weekend.
The Broncos (6-10) careened into an offseason of uncertainty after posting double digit losses in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1966-67, an ignominy that could cost second-year coach Vance Joseph his job.
Denver pulled to 14-9 on fullback Andy Janovich’s 20-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter, the first TD of his career. Case Keenum’s 2-point conversion throw, however, was picked off by cornerback Casey Hayward Jr., who slipped a tackle attempt by receiver Courtland Sutton at the left pylon and rumbled 102 yards for a pick-2 that gave Los Angeles a 16-9 lead with 10:10 remaining.
Then, Rivers had his only sustained drive, capped by Austin Ekeler’s 1-yard TD run.
Neither team got much going offensively.
The Chargers took a 7-3 halftime lead thanks to a defensive touchdown . Rivers’ 3-yard TD toss to Mike Williams that made it 14-3 came after Joey Bosa’s fumble recovery at the Denver 16.
Broncos offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s script proved ineffective again — for the ninth straight week, Denver punted on its opening drive.
The Broncos also punted on their next three possessions before their fourth one ended in a fumble return for a Chargers touchdown. Their fifth ended with an interception in the end zone, and their sixth ended with a field goal after they gained just 10 yards on seven plays from inside the Chargers 20-yard line.
The Broncos failed to convert interceptions by rookie Isaac Yiadom and Will Parks into points in the first quarter.
The Chargers’ only first-half score came when Keenum hit Royce Freeman with a low screen that was ruled a backward pass. Freeman didn’t secure it and a hard hit by cornerback Desmond King II to a prone Freeman popped the ball loose.
Linebacker Kyle Emmanuel scooped it up and ran 11 yards for a 7-0 L.A. lead with 5:42 left in the first half.
Denver left tackle Garett Bolles was whistled for holding, his 10th and 11th of the year. His first flag negated a 54-yard touchdown run by Devontae Booker.
The Broncos were about to tie it when a pass glanced off tight end Matt LaCosse and into the hands of safety Jahleel Addae, who tried to lateral the ball as he was getting tackled, fumbling the football that was recovered by Broncos guard Elijah Wilkinson at the Chargers 20.
The Broncos reached the 6 but had to settle for Brandon McManus’ 28-yard field goal.
Von Miller pulled off the trifecta with his strip sack of backup quarterback Geno Smith, and his recovery of the loose ball in the final minutes. Miller had another sack that was negated by a holding call on Yiadom.
Chargers: LB Jatavis Brown injured his right ankle tackling Royce Freeman on the final play of the first quarter and was helped to the sideline.
Broncos: WR Tim Patrick injured his right knee in the first half but returned after halftime. Right tackle Jared Veldheer left in the second half with a ribcage injury.
Chargers: Hit the road for wild-card weekend.
Broncos: Embark on another offseason of change with big questions yet again at coach and QB.
Source: The Associated Press