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Why it happened: Broncos 24, Chargers 21

Posted Sep 11, 2017

The Broncos held off the Chargers in a thriller to capture the win Monday night.

DENVER -- In the end, the Broncos survived.

For the 111th time in Broncos history, they held on to a lead of 17 or more points in the fourth quarter, but this time, it went down to the last, nail-biting seconds before they escaped with a 24-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers to start their season 1-0 for the sixth consecutive year.

"We've got to finish a lot better," said cornerback Aqib Talib. "We'll take the win, but we've got to finish a lot better."

Added defensive end Derek Wolfe: "We've got to finish people, because we had them. We had them finished. But it's Philip Rivers. You can't even give him an inch, because he's going to take it."

Nevertheless, it was a win. What were some of the reasons why the Broncos ended Week 1 triumphant?

BECAUSE SHELBY HARRIS CAME UP BIG

He was forced into extensive rotational work on the defensive line because of injuries, but he made the play of a lifetime on Younghoe Koo's attempt at a game-winning 44-yard field-goal attempt, bursting through Dan Feeney to block the kick and preserve Denver's win.

"I blocked a couple of field goals in college. It's kind of like, '1, 2, 3, put your hand up.' It's like a craft," Harris said, a broad smile crossing his face.

"You just stay low, blow 'em back and put your hand up," Harris explained later. "If you look up at the ball, your arm kind of shortens down, so you've just kind of got to go and get your hand up and hope for the best."

The Broncos called a timeout just as Koo made a first attempt at the kick, which he sent through the uprights.

"I'll tell you what, that icing the kicker thing -- man, it's a thing of beauty," said tight end Virgil Green.

The timeout created the opportunity for Harris and Derek Wolfe to work together and attack.

"Without Wolfe on that play, I wouldn't have had any chance at all. It's a two-man job," Harris said. "We both out there and dominated the job and we both made the play."

Upon hearing this, Wolfe bounded over to Harris.

"Quit being so modest over here, man!" Wolfe exclaimed to his young teammate.

"That was all you, man. That was all you."

BECAUSE TREVOR SIEMIAN SHOOK IT OFF

On the first play of the Broncos' second possession, he threw pass that landed squarely in the grasp of Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, who had a near-certain pick-six in front of him if he could just bring in the football. But Hayward bobbled it and the pass fell harmlessly away.

Given that reprieve, Siemian promptly settled in and guided the Broncos on a 13-play, 70-yard drive that saw him complete a pair of third-down passes -- including a 5-yard touchdown to Bennie Fowler that saw him take advantage of a free play that froze Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, rolling right to locate Fowler in the end zone.

Siemian did a good job capitalizing on mismatches on the drive. His first pass to Fowler during the series came when he saw him matched up with Chargers edge rusher Melvin Ingram. Simon hit Fowler for a 10-yard gain on third-and-7 to keep the drive moving.

"He came out and had a great game," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

BECAUSE THE GROUND GAME CARRIED ITS MOMENTUM FORWARD

The holes that were there for C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles in the preseason were present again for the two running backs for most of the night, especially in the first half.

Anderson and Charles combeind for 121 rushing yards on 30 carries, good for a 4.0-yards-per-carry average.

BECAUSE THE TIGHT ENDS CAME UP HUGE

Green, Jeff Heuerman and A.J. Derby were unleashed in the passing game in a big way Monday night, combining for 98 yards on five receptions, beginning with Heuerman's 20-yard catch on the Broncos' first touchdown drive midway through the first quarter.

Green's catch was the biggest in terms of significance and distance -- a 44-yard grab in the fourth quarter that came seconds after Travis Benjamin's 38-yard touchdown reception had trimmed the Broncos' lead to just three points. Green made the grab despite tight coverage at the numbers, giving the Broncos their longest gain of the night and pushing them into field-goal range.

The foundation for the tight ends' success Monday was poured during the Broncos' joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif. last month.

"That [Chargers] defense is kind of similar to the defense that San Francisco runs, so we kind of got a little precursor to how things are going to happen when we played them," Green said. "We paid attention to a lot of things in the practice that week. A lot of things were open. So we just wanted to take advantage of the open holes on defense."

BECAUSE THE DEFENSE "SPRINKLED SOME SUGAR"

That was the promise of Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods in May, and he lived up to it, throwing in some six-man rushes that led to some unblocked rushers and incompletions from Philip Rivers. Harris, Justin Simmons and Shaquil Barrett all took advantage of the six-man rushes to get to Rivers, with Simmons' rush helping force a Bradley Roby interception in the third quarter.

BECAUSE THE DEFENSE STOPPED THE RUN

After Melvin Gordon burst through a hole for a 21-yard run on the Chargers' first play from scrimmage, the gaps were non-existent. Gordon and Branden Oliver combined to average just 2.0 yards per carry on their next 21 rushes, picking up just 43 yards on 21 attempts after Gordon's first gallop.

Given the injuries to the Broncos' defensive line, allowing 64 yards and fewer than 3.0 yards per carry to Gordon and the Chargers was a win within the win -- especially in light of Denver's struggles against the run last year. It establishes an expectation that this year should be different -- and with the Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott looming next Sunday, it was a performance the Broncos needed.

"We expect that every week," Harris said.