Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn made multiple apologies after a 20-13 loss to Denver Sunday where his team’s offense was held to two fourth-quarter field goals and twice turned the ball over inside the Broncos’ 5-yard line.
“Sorry for keeping you good people waiting,” Lynn said. “Sorry for (having to watch) that damn game. If we play like that, we won’t beat anybody. That team came here desperate for a win, played hard, out-coached us and it was disappointing, but we have a resilient group, I think.
“We will see how we respond next week, but that was disappointing. This press conference will be really short, to be honest with you.”
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.
“They went straight down the field and scored on our defense,” Lynn said of Denver’s first two possessions, in which the team drove 75 yards on seven plays in 3:54 and 81 yards in five plays in 2:17. “They played faster, they played harder.”
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 at Dignity Health Sports Park announced at 25,357.
On a fourth-and-goal 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.
Lynn said it was his decision to try to score a touchdown instead of attempting a field goal because he was “trying to create some momentum in this football team, trying to get us a score before the half and come back out and get the ball again and get another score.”
“I gambled and I lost,” Lynn said.
The Chargers picked up two first downs on their first three possessions of the second half.
Linebacker Kyzir White gave them another opportunity to score a touchdown when he intercepted a pass by Flacco at Denver’s 7-yard line that had been deflected by defensive tackle Justin Jones with 3:38 left in the third quarter.
However, three plays later, 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.
“Just a bad throw,” Rivers said. “We were probably going to get three there, you throw that one away and they covered everything pretty good. I thought I had (receiver) Mike (Williams) there when he flashed, linebacker, I didn’t see him, obviously.”
Rivers was under duress when he threw his first interception on the Chargers’ second possession on a long pass intended for 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,” 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 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 contract, 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.
“Based on what he’s looking at and what I saw on the sidelines, he’s alright,” Lynn said. “I know he is going to get better. We didn’t have a full-speed practice last week because of certain injuries. The more he practices, the better he’s going to get.”
Said Gordon: “Physically, I was good. The first time I got hit, it’s different. You can’t emulate that no matter what you do. You kind of get the first hit and go, `Okay, that’s how it feels.’ You just have to get used to running, guys hitting you and stiff-arming. It’s just so different. Just getting back and adjusting things, but we’re definitely going up from here.”
To Rivers, Gordon “played like it was his first game back.”
“I say that with all respect to Melvin,” Rivers said. “It was his first game back and first time touching the ball live, full-speed since January. He played hard, ran hard, like we know him to do. We will all take a look at the film. Maybe there is a cut here or there that he could have made, or maybe not.”
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. The 32 completions gave Rivers 4,651 for his career, tying the injured Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers for seventh on the all-time list.
Ekeler set a franchise record for receptions by a running back with 15, breaking the previous mark of 13 held by Pro Football Hall of Fame member LaDainian Tomlinson, who set the mark in 2001 against the Arizona Cardinals.
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.