CARSON, Calif. — With an eight-game losing streak staring them in the face and the weight of history on their shoulders, the Denver Broncos had just enough football backbone to earn their first win of the season Sunday, 20-13, over the Los Angeles Chargers.
The win, which was Vic Fangio’s first as a head coach, kept the Broncos from the franchise’s first-ever 0-5 start and it snapped a losing streak that dated back to Dec. 2 of last season.
Asked this past week about the winless first month of the 2019 season, Fangio had said: “You just have to just keep coaching, keep grinding and keep pounding. You have no choice. If there was a magic wand or potion, I would purchase it, but we just have to keep playing. We’ve been close. Close don’t get it. I know that, but just keep pounding away at it.”
Riding their defense: The Broncos played physical defense, despite injuries to rookie linebacker Justin Hollins and cornerback De’Vante Bausby during the game and with linebacker Josey Jewell a game-day inactive. The Broncos pitched a first-half shutout. The last time that had happened to the Chargers was in 2015 at the Chiefs. The last time it happened at home was in 2012 to the Panthers.
Little lucky: The Broncos escaped a few moments that could have changed the game. Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen dropped a pass on a potential big-play matchup against linebacker Todd Davis late in the third quarter. Chargers cornerback Michael Davis dropped what would have almost certainly been a pick-six interception just before the end of the third quarter.
Promising trend: The Broncos offense, which had put together plenty of clock-eating, long-yardage drives this season, showed glimpses of being both a roll-up-the-sleeves side as well as one with some quick-strike ability.
The Broncos pounded away on their first touchdown drive — five of the seven plays with either two backs, two tight ends or three tight ends in the formation — and then finished off their second touchdown with a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown from quarterback Joe Flacco to Courtland Sutton.
The Broncos’ offense then staggered through the third quarter, but throughout they showed off a run game led by Phillip Lindsay who had 114 rushing yards and a touchdown, and the team rushed for 6 yards per carry.
The Chargers go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line and are stood up by the Broncos defense.
Pivotal play: Cornerback Kareem Jackson, who missed last week with a hamstring injury, was consistently where the action was Sunday, finishing off tackle after tackle. But his hit to close the first half was just the kind big-moment play the Broncos have not had enough of to this point in the season. With the Chargers in a fourth-and-goal at the Denver 1-yard line on what was going to be the last play of the half, Los Angeles tried to get Austin Ekeler into the open field on a sweep.
As Ekeler raced toward the pylon, Jackson stopped him short, knocking the ball free. The Chargers came away with no points.
QB breakdown: Flacco completed 14 of 20 passes for 182 yards and the long touchdown to Sutton. Flacco passed for 133 yards in the first quarter alone. But the Broncos got themselves in longer down-and-distance situations as the game wore on. The Broncos were having a far more difficult time keeping the rushers off the front porch in the final quarter.