The Los Angeles Chargers offense was held to two fourth- quarter field goals and twice turned the ball over inside the Denver Broncos’ 5-yard line in a 20-13 loss Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The previously winless Broncos took a 17-0 halftime lead on Phillip Lindsay’s 4-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening drive, Joe Flacco’s 70- yard touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton on their second possession and Brandon McManus’ 40-yard field goal five minutes, 17 seconds before halftime.
The Chargers (2-3) scored their lone touchdown on Desmond King’s 68- yard punt return with 31 seconds left in the third quarter. The Chargers cut the deficit to 17-10 with 6:47 to play on undrafted rookie Chase McLaughlin’s 45-yard field goal.
The Chargers defense forced the Broncos to punt after three plays following the ensuing kickoff, but were then forced to punt themselves after five plays.
Denver (1-4) increased its lead to 20-10 on McManus’ 46-yard field goal with 1:55 remaining, four plays after Lindsay began the drive with a 32- yard run to the Chargers’ 37-yard line.
Philip Rivers completed six consecutive passes to move the Chargers from their own 25-yard line to the Broncos’ 14-yard line before spiking the ball with 15 seconds to stop the clock and allow McLaughlin to come in and kick a 32-yard field goal that again cut Denver’s lead to seven.
However, the Chargers comeback hopes ended when McLaughlin’s onside kick attempt was recovered by the Broncos.
Rivers had two passes intercepted and the Chargers also lost a fumble before a crowd announced at 25,357.
On a fourth-and-1 play from the Broncos’ 1-yard line with seven seconds left in the first half, Austin Ekeler took a shovel pass from Rivers and lost control of the ball as he tried to stretch it over the plane of the goal line, with the ball going out of bounds in the end zone as time expired.
Three plays after Chargers linebacker Kyzir White intercepted a pass by Flacco at Denver’s 7-yard line with 3:38 left in the third quarter, Rivers threw a pass on a play that began at the Broncos’ 2-yard line into the end zone that was intercepted by linebacker A.J. Johnson.
Rivers was under duress when he threw his first interception on the Chargers’ second possession on a long pass intended for Mike Williams that was intercepted by safety Justin Simmons on Denver’s 37-yard line and returned 17 yards to the Chargers’ 46-yard line. Simmons’ fumble on the return was recovered by teammate Duke Dawson at the Chargers’ 42-yard line.
Flacco fumbled six plays later when he was sacked by Uchenna Nwosu with Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown recovering at the Chargers’ 31-yard line.
The Chargers were unable to capitalize on the turnover as McLaughlin’s 48-yard-field goal attempt was partially blocked by Dre’Mont Jones.
It was the first official NFL field goal attempt for McLaughlin, who the Chargers signed Wednesday because Ty Long’s “plant leg is a little sore,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Wednesday.
Long, who was only intended to be the Chargers’ punter, had handled their kicking duties each of their first four games because starting kicker Michael Badgley has been sidelined with a groin injury.
In his first action of the 2019 season, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon ran for a team-high 31 yards on 12 carries, with his longest gain going for 7 yards. He also caught four passes for seven yards, with his longest reception going for five yards.
Gordon, playing on the last year of his rookie deal, missed the entire preseason and first three regular-season games seeking a contract extension. He reported to the team Sept. 26 and was in uniform for last Sunday’s 30-10 victory over the winless Miami Dolphins but did not play.
The Chargers were outgained, 350 yards to 246, but led in first downs, 19-15, and time of possession, 30:24-29:36. They converted four of 13 third downs, 30.8%, the Broncos three of 11, 27.3%. The Chargers were unsuccessful on the game’s only fourth-down conversion attempt.
Rivers completed 32 of 48 passes for 211 yards, with his longest going for 20 yards on a second-quarter pass to Williams. Ekeler caught a team- high 15 receptions for 86 yards.
Flacco completed 14 of 20 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked three times. Lindsay ran for 114 yards on 15 carries.
Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram, a Pro Bowl selection each of the past two seasons, was inactive because of a hamstring injury he suffered in last week’s victory in Miami.
McLaughlin became the Chargers’ eighth kicker since the start of the 2017 season, not including punter Drew Kaser, who attempted three conversions in a 2017 Thanksgiving Day victory over the Dallas Cowboys when a sore lower back and hip flexor left Nick Novak unable to continue kicking.
McLaughlin made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 54- yarder, and all five extra points in preseason for the Buffalo Bills, but was cut when they reduced their roster to the regular-season 53-player limit on Aug. 31.
The Minnesota Vikings signed McLaughlin to their practice squad Sept. 1, but cut him Sept. 10.
— City News Service