CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Philip Rivers’ arm was already in motion when he realized Von Miller had read him like a book again. The Broncos’ superstar linebacker was about to jump another screen route for his second interception.
The Los Angeles Chargers’ quarterback couldn’t stop his final throw with 1:58 to play. He only managed to guide it into the ground for a clock-stopping incompletion on third down.
Rivers left the field enormously frustrated. The Chargers (7-3) were about to feel a whole lot worse.
“I’ve got to pull the ball back and take a sack or find a way to complete it,” Rivers said. “(But) we shouldn’t have been in that situation. It should have been about 33-7 at that point.”
Rivers’ incompletion meant Denver got 111 seconds to make its final drive, instead of only 70 seconds or so if Rivers had simply knelt down while the Broncos were out of timeouts.
The Broncos made every last second count, hitting a field goal as time expired for a 23-22 victory that ended the Chargers’ six-game winning streak in crushing fashion.
“That’s one where, you know, (Rivers) probably should have just ate it,” coach Anthony Lynn said.
Instead, the Chargers got a cold slap of reality when their impressive roll through the middle of the season ended in gut-wrenching fashion. The Bolts had multiple opportunities to put away the Broncos while outgaining them 479-325 and keeping the ball for nearly 38 minutes, but LA was undone by turnovers, penalties, mental errors, a replay review, a fake punt and just about any other mistake you can conjure under the California sun.
“When you make some errors we made today in critical moments, you open yourselves up to get beat, and that’s what happened today,” Rivers said. “We had every opportunity to close it out, and we just didn’t get it done.”
After spending the previous five weeks on the road, the Chargers lost at home for only the second time in nine games since Oct. 1, 2017. Lynn saw plenty of blame to be distributed throughout his roster after his team’s first loss anywhere since Sept. 23.
A fairly disciplined team committed a whopping 14 penalties for 120 yards. They ranged from the bizarre — Keenan Allen getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after his TD reception for trying on a championship belt held by a fan in the end zone stands — to the tired monotony of ordinary discipline lapses, including seven penalties in the first quarter alone.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Lynn said after the Chargers racked up the most penalties of his 26-game tenure. “Those are things that we’ve stayed away from: penalties and turnovers. They showed up today, and for whatever reason, I don’t know. We’ll figure it out, though.”
For the second straight week, the Chargers’ special-teamers were fooled by a fake punt — and Denver scored its first touchdown on the next snap in the second quarter. Mike Badgley also missed the Chargers’ NFL-worst seventh extra point.
Rivers passed for 401 yards with two touchdowns, but the veteran also had multiple interceptions for the first time since a loss at Kansas City last December.
The Chargers were up 19-7 and driving in Broncos territory late in the third quarter when Miller jumped a screen and returned his interception 42 yards , setting up a Denver TD just three plays later.
After the teams traded the lead early in the fourth quarter, the Chargers thought they had forced a game-deciding turnover twice — only to see a fumble turned into an incomplete pass by video review, followed by an interception that was wiped out by a defensive holding penalty with 4:40 to play.
Even after all of that, Los Angeles still needed just one score, one big play — even three yards and a cloud of dust.
On their final drive, the Bolts had a second-and-3 play near midfield with 2:39 to play, needing only a first down to wrap it up. But after Denver’s final timeout, running back Melvin Gordon simply went the wrong way on a running play, and Rivers was forced to take a sack before the two-minute warning.
“Ain’t no excuses for it,” Gordon said. “It’s the down to go get it to win the game. You just can’t make that mistake, and I did today. … It’s just puzzling and just frustrating. We know we could have won this game. We should have won this game, and everybody in this locker room knows that. We fell short.”
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