Broncos vs. Chargers score, takeaways: Dustin Hopkins fights injury to hit walk-off FG, lift L.A. over Denver

It took almost an entire extra quarter, but the Chargers edged their AFC West rival Broncos on Monday night. Neither club enjoyed much success with the ball in their hands under the lights, with Justin Herbert scattershot while throwing nearly 60 times and Russell Wilson struggling to connect downfield after arguably his best opening to a game with Denver. In the end, however, Brandon Staley’s squad got the best of Nathaniel Hackett’s, with a fumble recovery on a muffed punt late in overtime giving Los Angeles the ball deep in Broncos territory. Kicker Dustin Hopkins sealed the deal, hitting a 39-yard walk-off field goal in the Chargers’ 19-16 victory, even after looking to aggravate an injury on his first kick of the night.

Both teams entered the prime-time affair with major question marks. Denver had struggled mightily to establish offensive rhythm despite the much-anticipated Wilson-Hackett team-up, losing star running back Javonte Williams to a season-ending injury in Week 4. The issues appeared to die down early in Monday’s game, with Wilson starting 10-for-10, only to resurface afterward.

The Chargers, meanwhile, had failed to register a steady defensive showing despite Staley hailing from that side of the ball. Their efforts were improved against Denver, even with pass rusher Joey Bosa sidelined due to injury and prized offseason addition J.C. Jackson benched at halftime after surrendering several deep shots from Wilson.

Here are some additional takeaways from Monday night’s AFC West showdown:

Why the Chargers won

Dustin Hopkins. OK, so there was more to it than that, but no one deserves more credit than the veteran kicker, who missed Week 5 with a hamstring injury, aggravated that injury on his first extra point of the night, then proceeded to go 4-for-4 on field goals, including the 39-yarder to give the Chargers’ their first and final lead. He was clearly in pain, but he delivered.

Justin Herbert warrants praise for getting Hopkins reasonably close on the last series, though the quarterback was altogether more erratic and indecisive than usual, working on an apparently conservative game plan and without several key starters, namely receiver Keenan Allen and center Corey Linsley. Austin Ekeler, though bottled up for much of the night, at least served as a steady outlet, logging 10 catches to help move the ball in dinks and dunks.

The defense was even better, turning in maybe its most impressive outing of the year, albeit against a Broncos team that’s proven to be stuck in the mud. The unit totaled seven tackles for loss while drilling Wilson on multiple key downs, with linebacker Drue Tranquill blazing in untouched on a fourth-quarter blitz to force a punt. Special teams also came through, with Ja’Sir Taylor smartly forcing Broncos special teamer P.J. Locke into his own return man, Montrell Washington; the play forced a fumble that set up the Chargers’ final drive in Denver territory.

Why the Broncos lost

It’ll be easy to pin this one on Washington, the rookie returner, failing to secure the fair-catch punt late in overtime, but anyone who watched from start to finish knows this “L” — par for the course — stemmed just as much, if not more, from Hackett’s offense. Wilson looked the most comfortable he’s been all year out of the gate, taking shots downfield while on the move, but the deep balls to K.J. Hamler — or anyone, for that matter — were short-lived. In between 10 penalties, Denver went a paltry 4 for 14 on third downs, failing to get either Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy involved when it mattered. It didn’t help that Wilson either had little time to throw or held the ball a touch too long late in the contest, or that Hackett sparsely deployed Mike Boone, seemingly the most dynamic of the backs left to fill in for Javonte Williams.

It’s a shame Denver once again couldn’t move the ball and/or finish drives after the promising start, because the team’s defense threatened to win the game itself. With six of their own tackles for loss, nine pass deflections and a stud performance from star cornerback Patrick Surtain II, who effectively erased Mike Williams from Herbert’s vision, the Denver “D” could only watch as time ticked on and its own offense couldn’t put points on the board.

Turning point

Undoubtedly it was when Ja’Sir Taylor blocked his man into Montrell Washington on the OT punt return. But you might also say it was when Herbert shifted outside of the pocket to deliver a nine-yard strike to Mike Williams that set up Hopkins’ 39-yard game-winner. Herbert, again, did not have a pretty night, notably throwing into traffic with just over 10 minutes left in regulation and getting picked off by Baron Browning. But he was on target in the waning minutes of OT, and that’s all that mattered.

Play of the game

It’s Taylor again. Give the special teamer some credit! Had officials reviewed one of Mike Williams’ few downfield targets, in which he laid out and came close to getting two feet in bounds while going to the ground, that might’ve been the highlight of the night. But Taylor’s awareness to essentially block a Broncos player into a muffed punt was key.

What’s next

The Broncos (2-4) will return home in Week 7 for a matchup with the red-hot Jets (4-2), who upset the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday. The Chargers (4-2), meanwhile, will stay in Los Angeles to host the Seahawks (3-3), who beat the rival Cardinals to stay tied atop the NFC West.

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