The Los Angeles Chargers were unable to hold a 21-point third-quarter lead, with Drew Lock throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Hamler and Brandon McManus kicking the tie-breaking extra point as time expired in the Denver Broncos’ 31-30 victory Sunday in Denver.
The loss was the Chargers’ fourth of the season after taking a double-digit lead, and third after a lead of at least 17 points.
“I thought we had the game under control, and then to not make the plays in the third quarter to finish this game is very disappointing and very frustrating,” coach Anthony Lynn said after his team’s record dropped to 2-5.
The Chargers are 1-5 this season and 3-14 since the start of last season in one-score games.
All of the Chargers’ 2020 losses have been by seven points or less, including a 30-27 overtime loss at New Orleans Oct. 12, in which they led by 17 points in the second quarter, a 38-31 loss to Tampa Bay Oct. 4, when they led by 17 in the second quarter and a 23-20 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sept. 20, when they led by 11 in the third quarter.
When asked if he was concerned about his job security, Lynn responded, “When you’re not winning, you should be, to be honest with you. But I don’t let that consume me. I’m never going to turn this around or do what I need to do here if that’s all I’m thinking about.”
The Chargers are 28-27 in Lynn’s three-plus seasons as coach, including 7-16 since the start of the 2018 season.
The Chargers out-gained the Broncos 485 yards to 351, led 28-17 in first downs and 35:53-24:07 in time of possession in front of a coronavirus-limited crowd at Empower Field at Mile High announced at 5,231.
Much of those advantages were compiled in the first half, when the Chargers outscored Denver 14-3 and outgained them 250-60, led 14-2 in first downs and 17:53-12:57 in time of possession.
“The defense dominated in the first half,” Lynn said. In the second half, “I saw some guys did not make some plays that we made in the first half. We held that team almost to one yard rushing in the first half. In the second half, all of a sudden, they ran the ball all over us.”
The Broncos (3-4) ran for two yards on eight carries in the first half and 106 on eight carries in the second, including Phillip Lindsay’s 55-yard touchdown run with six minutes, five seconds left in the third quarter, which began their comeback from a 24-3 deficit.
Denver began their final drive on their own 19 with 2:30 left and one time out remaining after Tyrie Cleveland’s 23-yard kickoff return. The Broncos converted a third-and-1 from their own 28 on former Charger Melvin Gordon III’s 10-yard run on their first set of downs.
Denver faced a third-and-8 from its 40 on the next set of downs, getting the first down on cornerback Tevaughn Campbell’s 5-yard pass interference penalty.
Lock completed a 14-yard pass to receiver DaeSean Hamilton for the Broncos’ third first down of the drive. Their next one came on Lock’s 5-yard pass to Gordon on a third-and-5 play that advanced the ball to the Chargers’ 24-yard line with 27 seconds left.
Facing a fourth-and-4 from the Chargers’ 18-yard line with seven seconds to play, Lock a threw a pass into the end zone intended for Albert Okwuegbunam, but it went incomplete.
However, Chargers’ cornerback Brandon Facyson was called for pass interference, giving Denver the ball on the Chargers’ 1-yard line with one second to play.
Lock rolled to his right, then passed to Hamler in the end zone who caught the ball as he was falling down and out of bounds. One official ruled the pass incomplete and another ruled it complete. Following a discussion, Hamler was ruled to have two feet in bounds when he caught the ball for the touchdown.
McManus made the winning extra point, evoking memories of the Chargers’ last game in Denver, when McManus kicked a 53-yard field goal as time expired for a 23-20 Broncos’ victory, one play after Casey Hayward was called for a 37-yard pass interference penalty.
The loss was the Chargers’ eighth straight against an AFC West opponent dating back to last season, and sixth in eight games against Denver.
Nine of the last 11 regular-season games between the Chargers and Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High have been decided by one score. The Chargers are 3-6 in those one-score games, including losing seven of the past eight.
Lock completed 26 of 41 passes with one interception for 248 yards and three touchdowns. He was the first Denver quarterback to throw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes in a victory since Peyton Manning against the Houston Texans on Dec. 22, 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Lock’s other fourth-quarter touchdown passes were a 9-yarder to Okwuegbunam with 11:42 left and a 40-yarder to Hamilton with 7:30 to play.
Justin Herbert completed 29 of 43 passes with two interceptions for 278 yards and three touchdowns for the Chargers.
This was the fourth consecutive game Herbert has thrown at least three touchdown passes, joining Deshaun Watson as the only rookie quarterbacks to have four three-touchdown performances in a season and four consecutive three-touchdown games.
Herbert’s 15 touchdown passes matches Watson for the most by a rookie through six games.
Herbert guided the Chargers on three consecutive touchdown drives in the second and third quarters after they were forced to punt twice, turned the ball over on downs and he threw an interception on their first four possessions.
Herbert threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Keenan Allen with 1:48 left in the first half and a 2-yarder to rookie fullback Gabe Nabers 15 seconds before halftime.
The Chargers drove 75 yards on 10 plays on the opening possession of the second half, culminated with Herbert’s 24-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mike Williams.
After Williams’ touchdown, the Chargers’ only points came on a 52-yard field goal by Michael Badgley with 7:33 remaining in the third quarter that increased their lead to 24-3 and his 47- and 33-yard field goals in the fourth quarter.
The Charger defense limited the Broncos to McManus’ 35-yard field goal in the first half. The field goal came four plays after safety Justin Simmons intercepted a deep pass by Herbert at Denver’s 38-yard line and returned the ball 46 yards to the Chargers’ 16.
The game was a matchup of teams that both had to a cancel a practice because of a positive coronavirus test by their starting right guard.
The Chargers canceled Thursday’s practice after announcing that Ryan Groy had tested positive for the coronavirus. The Broncos canceled Friday’s practice after announcing Graham Glasgow had tested positive.
Both players have been placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Groy was also placed on the injured reserve list Thursday because of a biceps injury suffered in last Sunday’s 39-29 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars and will miss a minimum of three games.