Justin Herbert hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass for the first time in 27 games. For once, it didn’t matter thanks to the special teams of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Dustin Hopkins scored four field goals, including a 39-yarder with 2:38 remaining in overtime, while the Chargers rallied for a 19-16 win over the Denver Broncos.
Hopkins, who injured a hamstring during the first half, winced as he kicked the ball and fell to the ground before being picked up by teammates. The ninth year kicker was inactive for last week’s game against Cleveland due to a quadriceps injury.
Herbert, who is still recovering from his rib cartilage fracture from a blow a month ago, appreciated that Hopkins was able to gut him.
“We have so much respect for him. For him to go out there and play and take some pain like that, it was great to see that,” said Herbert, whose 56 attempts without a TD pass are an NFL record.
Coach Brandon Staley said Hopkins’ hamstring narrowed early but began to loosen during the second half.
“You can’t say enough about him staying there,” said Staley. “In the end we had no choice. We were going to kick, whatever happens.”
Hopkins has five games with four or more field goals. He is also the first OT game winner of his career.
“I was trying to focus on a little backswing and just go through the ball. That’s it,” Hopkins said. “I wasn’t thinking about the circumstance or anything like that.”
The Chargers won three in a row to go 4-2. They are tied to Kansas City on top of AFC West. It is the first time in franchise history that they have bounced back from a double-digit shortfall at the end of the first quarter to win.
Los Angeles was down 14-3 at the end of the first quarter last Sunday in Cleveland before scoring a 30-28 win.
This game seemed to be headed for a draw until Denver’s Montrell Washington dampened JK Scott’s punt at the Broncos’ 32-yard line. He was recovered by Deane Leonard at 28.
Washington demanded a fair grip, but Denver security PJ Locke didn’t hear Washington and tried to block Ja’Sir Taylor when Locke clashed with Washington.
“I just saw the comeback run, he was kind of relaxed, and then his teammate was standing there,” Taylor said. “At first, if you go back, I stopped for a bit, and then it just clicked in my head like, ‘Oh, throw it on the way back.’ And it happened, and the ball came out. “
Herbert, who completed 37 of 57 for 238 yards and an interception, passed Mike Williams for 9 yards in third and 12 from the Denver 30 to approach Hopkins.
Russell Wilson had 15 of 28 for 188 yards and a touchdown for the Broncos (2-4), who lost a game in extra time for the second straight week.
“We felt like we could win the game, and then we had the lucky break in the end. It didn’t work out, but everyone is together,” Wilson said.
Denver jumped 10-0 in the lead with scores in the first two drives. Brandon McManus was good from 51 yards midway through the first, and Wilson found a Greg Dulcich wide open for a 39-yard touchdown with 1:49 remaining in the fourth.
Dulcich’s TD was the first of his career and the first of the Broncos in 87 minutes and 54 seconds.
After a Denver triumph, Los Angeles equalized 10 on Hopkins’ 37-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining.
However, the Broncos weren’t content with running out of time. KJ Hamler carried a 47-yard pass to LA 28. Denver made it to Chargers 9 before McManus was good from 27 yards.
The Chargers equalized on their first drive of the third quarter when Hopkins split the uprights from 31 yards.
The teams exchanged field goals in the fourth quarter. McManus was good from 48 yards after Baron Browning took out Herbert. The Chargers responded with Hopkins from 35.
“This is very disappointing,” said Denver manager Nathaniel Hackett. “We had some opportunities there and we need to perform at a higher level. We need to find better plays.”
Looking to the future, the Broncos will host the amazing New York Jets on Sunday. The Chargers, meanwhile, will host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.