By Tim Peterson
(Inglewood) – The Chargers were held out of the end zone until the fourth quarter and never established a groove offensively in a 24-7 loss to Denver in front of 70, 240 fans at SoFi Stadium Sunday.
The Chargers not only lost the game but also their quarterback as Justin Hebert left the game late in the second quarter in what was diagnosed later as a fractured right index finger. It is not known at this time how long he will be out.
LA struggled all game converting on third and fourth downs and although the Chargers did move the ball at times through the air the ground game never got on track.
The Chargers were 0 for 12 on third down attempts and 1 for 6 on fourth down.
The Chargers’ missed a golden opportunity to score first early in the game but missed the chance. Michael Davis made a nice play to take the ball away from Marvin Mims Jr. for an interception on the Broncos 13-yard line on Denver’s opening possession. But the Chargers went for it on fourth down at the six and Herbert’s pass in the endzone fell incomplete.
On the next possession it went from bad to worse. Justin Herbert had the ball tipped by a defender and then intercepted by Jonathon Cooper at the LA three-yard line. Javante Williams quickly cashed in for Denver scoring on a three-yard run to give the Broncos a 7-0 lead.
With the score still 7-0 Herbert left the game with 2:00 left in the second quarter with the injury and was replaced by Easton Stick.
The Broncos moved the ball down into Charger territory late in the second quarter before the drive stalled but Wil Lutz kicked a 23-yard field goal with five seconds left in the first half to increase the Broncos lead to 10-0. Denver took that lead into the break.
For the third time in the game the Chargers were stopped on fourth down in the third quarter. This time Joshua Kelley was stonewalled for no gain on the Denver 40.
The Broncos took advantage as Russell Wilson hit Courtland Sutton on a 46-yard touchdown pass. Sutton came up with a circus catch pulling in a one-handed grab as he fought off Davis who was defending for the Chargers. Denver was up 17-0 with 5:55 left in the third quarter.
The Chargers finally got on the board in the fourth quarter marching 94 yards on five plays with Austin Ekeler finishing it with a three-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 17-7.
On the next possession Denver answered as Wilson connected with Adam Trautman on a 10-yard touchdown pass to cap a 75-yard drive with 3:11 left to again increase the advantage to 17.
The Chargers had the ball one more time but failed to produce.
For the Chargers Herbert completed 9 of 17 for 96 yards with an interception. Stick was 13 of 24 for 179 yards. The Chargers only had 76 yards rushing with Ekeler running for 51 yards on 10 carries. Ekeler also caught five passes for 49 yards. Quentin Johnston had three receptions for 91 yards and Keenan Aleen six for 68.
For the Broncos Wilson was 21 of 33 for 224 yards and two touchdowns with a pick. Sutton hauled in three passes for 62 yards and the score and Williams ran for 66 yards and a TD on 17 carries.
With the defeat the Chargers fell to 5-8 on the year and are tied for last place in the AFC West with the Las Vegas Raiders. LA has lost four of its last five games. The Broncos, in second place behind the Kansas City Chiefs, improved to 7-6.