In the Wild West, it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you come out alive. The Broncos can exhale today after holding off the Chargers despite late-game heroics by Philip Rivers and company to win 24-21.
A week one game can never be considered a must win. The NFL is an ever-changing week-to-week league. However, for the Broncos to have a chance of making the playoffs in the AFC West, Denver needs to take care of division opponents, especially at home. They took the first step on Monday night and are now tied atop the division with Oakland and Kansas City.
The Broncos were in charge of the game for nearly three quarters. Trevor Siemian showed poise early channeling his inner Aaron Rodger on a free play after the Chargers jumped offsides to find receiver Bennie Fowler for the early score.
“It’s a free play; it’s just backyard football at that point,” said Siemian. “Bennie did a good job of sneaking out of the back and kind of had some space there at the end line and made a heck of a catch.”
Siemian would later add another strike for six to Fowler to finish 17 of 28 for 219 yards and two touchdowns and an interception. The Broncos starter also showed a little skip in his step after putting a move on Chargers star end Joey Bosa to trot into the end zone.
“I think Joey got me one other time so I think we will call it even,” noted Siemian with a smile across his face. “We’ll see him again. I don’t want to see myself in that situation where it’s me and him too often but glad to get it in there for sure.”
However, it wasn’t all smiles Monday night. The offensive line struggled to contain the Chargers pass rush. Melvin Ingram and Bosa continued to crash the edge, combining for three sacks. More importantly, the Broncos failed to put the nail in the coffin following a big fourth down stop near midfield. In the NFL, the margin for error is so small and late game complacency often leaves the door open for opponents to get back in the game. The Broncos did just that and two costly fourth quarter turnovers nearly sent Denver fans home in utter shock.
“The game was in firm control for about three quarters there and we felt good, but you turn the ball over twice on the short side of the fifty it’s going to be a problem with Philip Rivers,” noted Vance Joseph.
Rivers would make the Broncos pay for with both of their mistakes leading to touchdowns. With the Chargers’ trailing by just three, rookie kicker Younghoe Koo lined up for a game tying 44-yard field goal. His first attempt was perfect. However, in his first game as head coach, Joseph went to a veteran trick and called time out.
Koo would have to kick again. In sports, heroes come from all sort of places. On Monday night, that man was Shelby Harris. After being tipped off by teammate Derek Wolfe, Harris got great penetration up the middle while raising his right hand to send the ball sailing left and allowing Broncos fans to sleep in peace.
The hero Harris was a long shot to make the team in camp. The former seventh round draft pick has faced his fair share of adversity. Harris has jumped around the league while being waived four times by the Raiders, and once by the Jets and Cowboys.
While the name Harris is new to a lot of fans, his teammates have taken notice of Harris’ hard work since the start of minicamp.
“He continues to make plays; it doesn’t matter if it’s third down, second down, first down. We had Zach Kerr, and Jared Crick out and he stepped up and made plays for us,” said Miller. “Those are the stories that you want to hear about a guy like Shelby coming on the team and fighting his way on the team and fighting his way into the starting role and fighting his way into a big-time role player on this team.”
The Broncos can exhale, but not for long. The team will go back to work Wednesday for a short week. The team will host the 1-0 Cowboys on Sunday.