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Broncos and Russell Wilson struggle again, big special teams error keys Chargers win

Russell Wilson had a chance to put together a drive that could have started to endear him to Denver Broncos fans. And then another chance. And another.

The Broncos had three possessions when they were tied 16-16 against the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night. One came at the end of regulation and then there were two to start overtime. All three ended in punts, with no points. There was only one first down in those drives and it came on a run.

Then Denver’s special teams made a huge mistake. Montrell Washington muffed a punt when a blocker was pushed back into him. The Chargers recovered and got a game-winning field goal for the 19-16 win in overtime.

The story of yet another Broncos game is the lack of offense. Wilson wasn’t great for the final three quarters of regulation. He couldn’t get a drive going in overtime either, going three-and-out on two straight possessions. He hasn’t been good for most of this season and the questions about his struggles di lui will continue.

At least the Broncos won’t be on prime time again for a while.

Russell Wilson starts hot

The last time we saw Wilson, he was struggling in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts and missing a wide-open KJ Hamler for what would have been a game-winning touchdown. It was reported he had a partially torn lat muscle and had an injection in his throwing shoulder after that Colts loss.

He started hot on Monday night. He was 10-of-10 for 116 yards and a touchdown after his TD toss to rookie tight end Greg Dulcich. That gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead. It was Wilson’s best quarter as Broncos quarterback.

Unfortunately for the Broncos, the next three-plus quarters looked like the first five games of the season. Denver didn’t score a touchdown for the rest of regulation. The Broncos instead got field goals. It was 13-13 going into the fourth quarter.

Denver’s defense, as it has done most of the season, kept the team in the game. That included a stop on fourth-and-2 to start the fourth quarter.

A little later in the fourth quarter they got a huge play when Baron Browning, who is usually rushing the passer, dropped into coverage and caught a deflection for an interception. He almost fumbled it away, but the Broncos recovered and had great field position.

Of course, the Broncos didn’t get a first down after that. They did got a field goal for a 16-13 lead.

Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack (52) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3).  (AP Photo / Kyusung Gong)
Los Angeles linebacker Khalil Mack (52) sacks Denver’s Russell Wilson. It was one of four Chargers sacks in Monday night’s overtime victory. (AP Photo / Kyusung Gong)

Chargers had a chance late in the game

The Chargers weren’t good on offense Monday, but had their chances to win in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The Broncos seemed to force an incompletion on a key third down in the fourth quarter, but rookie cornerback Damarri Mathis got his fourth pass interference call of the game and that kept the drive alive with a little less than five minutes remaining. The Chargers’ concern was their kicker, Dustin Hopkins, was dealing with a quadriceps issue. Getting close enough to kick a tying field goal wasn’t as easy as usual. With 4:02 the Chargers had to try a 35-yard attempt, and Hopkins nailed it. The game was tied again, 16-16. Hopkins would come up big in overtime, too.

Wilson had a shot to lead a game-winning drive in the final four minutes of regulation. He has led many game-winning drives in his career, but his first month-and-a-half with the Broncos has been filled with mostly subpar play and criticism. It was a chance for him to start to change that narrative.

The Broncos got a first down on a run up the middle and nothing else after that. On third down Wilson was sacked on a blitz up the middle, as linebacker Drue Tranquill was unblocked. The Broncos punted. After Wilson’s 10-for-10 start, he threw incomplete on 13 of his final 18 passes. He had 78 yards after the first quarter.

Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said after the game that Wilson had a hamstring injury during the game, and perhaps that affected Denver’s play-calling and Wilson’s effectiveness.

Herbert had his chance at the end of regulation. The Chargers got near near midfield but couldn’t get into field-goal range, and their Hail Mary shot on the last play of regulation fell incomplete. The game went to overtime. The Broncos won the coin toss to start overtime but had a quick punt. Then the Chargers went three-and-out too.

The Broncos got the ball back and had little interest in passing. For the second straight drive they started by running on first and second down. Then Wilson threw incomplete again. He tried going deep to Jerry Jeudy but cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. played it well and broke it up. Another three-and-out.

The Chargers went three-and-out too, but then got the key recovery on the muffed punt. Herbert completed a big third-down pass to give Hopkins a shot at the game-winning 39-yard field goal. Hopkins came through.

The Broncos’ defense was likely hoping for a tie. Denver had to know its offense wasn’t going to help. It probably didn’t anticipate special teams making the crucial mistake to wrap up the loss.

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