Austin Ekeler, Andre Roberts and Mike Williams scored touchdowns after missing last week’s game on the COVID-19 reserve list as the Los Angeles Chargers defeated the Denver Broncos, 34-13, Sunday.
The victory moves the Chargers (9-7) within one victory of a playoff berth. They would be assured of their first playoff berth since 2018 and second since 2014 with a victory in their regular-season finale next Sunday at Las Vegas.
The NFL announced Sunday night the Chargers-Raiders game will be the final game of the regular season and the NBC “Sunday Night Football” game for the final week of the season.
The Raiders (9-7) would also be assured of a playoff berth with a victory while the loser would fail to make the playoffs.
Ekeler ran 3 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening drive, Roberts returned a kickoff 101 yards 20 seconds into the fourth quarter for the Chargers’ first touchdown on a kickoff return since 2012 and Williams caught a 45-yard pass from Justin Herbert with 10 minutes, 18 seconds to play at SoFi Stadium before a crowd announced at 70,240.
They were among 13 Chargers who missed last Sunday’s 41-29 loss to the Houston Texans because they were on the COVID-19 reserve list, along with outside linebacker Joey Bosa. The four-time Pro Bowl selection made six tackles Sunday, including one for a loss.
The touchdown pass to Williams gave Herbert 35 for the season, breaking the previous team record of 34 set by Philip Rivers in 2008.
“Justin has worked extremely hard to earn that record,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “It’s not a coincidence that these records are happening for him. It’s because of the type of person he is, the type of competitor he is and the type of player he is.”
Herbert called setting the record “a huge accomplishment, but it doesn’t get done without my teammates, the receivers, tight ends and especially the offensive line that has done an incredible job of protecting me all year.”
Herbert became the sixth player to have a 35-touchdown season before turning 24. Three of the other five were selected as the NFL’s MVP that season — Dan Marino in 1984, Patrick Mahomes in 2018 and Lamar Jackson in 2019.
Herbert completed 22 of 31 passes for 237 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown to Keenan Allen 14 seconds before halftime. Herbert’s 22 completions gave him 805 for his career, reaching the 800 mark in 31 games, the fastest in NFL history. Mahomes and Matthew Stafford shared the previous record with 34 games.
Herbert was third youngest player to reach that mark at 23 years, 298 days old. The only younger players to reach 800 completions were Drew Bledsoe, who was 23 years and 271 days old when he accomplished the feat as a New England Patriot, and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who was 23 years and 296 days old.
The Chargers outgained Denver, 341 yards to 319, led 21-18 in first downs and 30:16-29:44 in time of possession.
“I felt like we really showed what we are made of today,” Staley said.
The Chargers held the Broncos (7-9) to a 61-yard field goal by Brandon McManus as time expired in the first half, the longest of his eight-season NFL career, a 23-yard field goal by McManus on the first play of the fourth quarter, and a 5-yard touchdown pass from Drew Lock to tight end Noah Fant with 6:31 to play.
Former Charger Melvin Gordon appeared to run 1 yard for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter but the score was nullified on an illegal formation penalty as offensive lineman Austin Schlottmann reported in an as an eligible receiver, but did not line up in a spot as an eligible receiver, prompting Denver coach Vic Fangio to send in McManus to attempt the field goal.
Lock completed 18 of 25 passes for 245 yards in place of Teddy Bridgewater who missed his second consecutive game because of a concussion.
“I thought he had some good throws and made some good reads,” Fangio said. “We cannot seem to find a rhythm and a consistency in our offense to keep our drives sustained, or make first downs to eventually get us touchdowns.”
Dustin Hopkins kicked a 19-yard field goal in the second quarter and a 23-yarder in the third for the Chargers.