En route to being blown out at Mile High for the third consecutive game and becoming the first team in franchise history to start 0-4 at home, something noticeable happened on the Broncos’ sideline Sunday: There appeared to be a strange calm as the Los Angeles Chargers built a 21-point second-half lead.
Keep grinding, the players told themselves even after the eyesore-of-a-first-half.
Keep hitting, they told each other even as the Chargers’ defense kept Drew Lock and Co., in a collective vice grip.
Keep believing, they reminded teammates and coaches even as the fourth-quarter clock began to evaporate.
And then suddenly … and semi-miraculously … and totally impressively, the Broncos’ resilience was rewarded.
The offense scored touchdowns on four of their final five possessions, capped by Lock’s 1-yard pass to receiver KJ Hamler as time expired that, after Brandon McManus’ extra point, propelled the Broncos to a 31-30 win over the Chargers.
The fans who serenaded them with boos at halftime saluted them as they ran off the field.
“We’re a bunch of fighters,” coach Vic Fangio said. “Play hard. Play physical. Play for each other. We’re going to play as a team, one for all and all for one and we had to keep doing that. If we made a couple of plays and a couple of starts, we could get it turned. And we did that.
“And by God, we won that game.”
And by God, it was improbable. The blood splattered on Fangio’s sweatshirt and a bandage covering the bridge of his nose, the result of a sideline collision? That would have been nothing compared to the figurative autopsy that would have been administered had the Chargers won in a rout.
Instead, the Broncos could celebrate their biggest comeback win (21 points) since rallying from 24 points in 2012 … also against the Chargers.
“Maybe we’re just starting to click,” Lock said after going 14-of-18 passing for 155 yards and three touchdowns — in the fourth quarter.
Said safety Justin Simmons: “It was awesome to see.”
So awesome that it requires a play-by-play recap.
Down 24-3, the Broncos (3-4) got a 55-yard touchdown run by Phillip Lindsay, a 9-yard catch by tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and a 40-yard catch by receiver DaeSean Hamilton to cut the Chargers’ lead to 27-24.
During the Chargers’ drive to make it 30-24, Fangio used two of his timeouts — at the 2:44 and 2:34 marks — so the Broncos had one timeout and 2:24 at their disposal.
“Our coaches run us through two-minute (situations) definitely once every day and sometimes twice,” Lock said. “We made a really big deal this week to be crisp and clean on it.”
Exhibit A of being crisp and clean: During the ensuing 14-play drive, the Broncos didn’t commit a penalty and didn’t have a negative play.
2:19 … 2:00 … 1:49: Melvin Gordon six-yard catch, three-yard run and 10-yard run to move the Broncos to the 38-yard line.
1:35 … 1:30 … 1:27: Gordon two-yard catch, Lock incompletion and a pass interference penalty on Chargers cornerback Tevaughn Campbell (covering Okwuegbunam). The penalty turned a third-and-8 into a first down from the 45.
1:21 … :55 … :35: Hamler seven-yard catch, Hamilton 14-yard catch and Lindsay three-yard catch. After Lindsay’s catch, the Broncos had second-and-7 from the Chargers’ 31. Hamilton had four catches for 82 yards to make up for Tim Patrick’s absence (hamstring injury).
“He hasn’t really been called on much, but the reason he’s on this team is he’s Mr. Reliable,” Lock said of Hamilton. “If guys go down, he’s going to be great for us.”
:55 … :35 … :27: Gordon two-yard catch and five-yard catch. The second reception was on third-and-5 and Gordon strained his way to the first-down line; after a review, the Broncos were given the first down at the Chargers’ 24 but had used their final timeout.
“Helluva catch by Melvin to get that first down,” Simmons said. “As a player, you always want to be the one out there when the game is coming down to its decision. It was nerve-wracking, but our offense had all of the momentum in the second half and kept making play after play.”
:21 … :13 … :07: Fant six-yard catch, Lock spike to stop the clock and Lock incompletion to the end zone.
If the Broncos had lost, Lock would have wanted the end zone incompletion back — he had Hamilton open in the end zone but underthrew him.
:01: On fourth-and-4 (seven seconds remained when the play started), Lock threw incomplete to the end zone, but Okwuegbunam drew a 17-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Brandon Facyson.
“Albert got a 1-on-1 chance on the ‘7’ route to the back of the end zone and I just threw it up to the big guy and gave him a chance and got the flag,” Lock said.
:00: The winning play.
The Broncos had three receivers, one tight end and one running back on the field. At the snap, Hamler ran a jet motion fake from left to right across the formation. After his play action fake to Gordon, Lock rolled right.
“That’s been in our arsenal a little bit,” Lock said. “It was one of our two-point plays and we needed it right there. I always love the option of having me roll out and making (a defender) take me and if they don’t take me, I fling my body in into the end zone.”
Hamler was running parallel to him along the goal line, but turned up the field and into the end zone. Safety Rayshawn Jenkins fronted Hamler initially before peeling off to pursue Lock, who calmly flipped it to Hamler for the touchdown.
Said Hamler of his first NFL touchdown: “I went up-field a little bit and came back down to see if (Jenkins) would fall off me. Sure enough, he did.”
And sure enough, the Broncos had the kind of win that makes things interesting for at least another week.
“We had six quarters (last week against Kansas City and Sunday’s first half) where we weren’t really competitive offensively,” Fangio said. “After the first series of the second half, we caught on-fire and hopefully this will bring us to bigger and better things.”
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