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‘If y’all go across that middle, K-Jack’s gonna hit you’: Jackson’s return sparks Broncos’ defense

CARSON, Calif. — On fourth-and-goal from the Denver 1-yard line, Philip Rivers took the snap from the shotgun.

With six seconds left in the first half, the Chargers aimed to cut into the Broncos’ 17-0 lead. Running back Austin Ekeler jetted in front of Rivers from the right side of the formation, and Rivers pitched the ball forward to the 5-foot-10, 200-pound back.

Ekeler sprinted laterally in the backfield before turning upfield and angling toward the pylon.

That’s where he ran into Kareem Jackson. Or, rather, where Jackson ran into him.

The veteran safety, who missed a Week 4 game against Jacksonville with a hamstring injury, met Ekeler right before the goal line and dislodged the ball from his grasp. The ball flew out of the end zone for a touchback that ended the half, and the Broncos maintained their 17-0 lead.

It was exactly the kind of play Head Coach Vic Fangio envisioned Jackson making when the team signed him as a free agent in March.

“Huge,” said Fangio after the game when asked about the impact of the play. “[Cornerback Isaac Yiadom] was involved in that a little bit. He made him bow his course, which gave Kareem time to get there. So good play on those two guys’ part. And honestly, it’s a big play in the game. They go in at halftime 17-0 rather than 17-7.

“Those are the types of plays we had envisioned when we brought Kareem in here to play safety. It looked like from my vantage point like he played well. I’ve got to look at the tape obviously.”

The Chargers also received the opening kickoff of the second half, so it was conceivable before Jackson's stop that they could cut the lead to one possession before Denver's offense touched the ball again.

Jackson made sure that didn't happen.

“It felt good to be able to make that play for our team,” Jackson said. “It was a big situation in the game for us going into the half.”

Jackson did more than just make one play. He finished with a game-high 10 tackles, including eight of the solo variety. And having him back in the middle of the field meant a great deal to cornerback Chris Harris Jr.

“Kareem’s huge for us at safety, just bringing his experience and tackling and his physicality,” Harris said. “I love him at safety, because I let receivers know, ‘If y’all go across that middle, K-Jack’s gonna hit you.’”

AN END-OF-GAME SCENARIO

After Brandon McManus’ 45-yard field goal gave the Broncos a 10-point lead with 1:55 to play in the game, the Chargers proceeded to move 61 yards in eight plays and just one minute and 45 seconds. Los Angeles kicked a 32-yard field goal once it reached the Denver 14-yard line to cut the lead to 20-13, and the Chargers then attempted an onside kick with 10 seconds to play.

Joe Jones recovered for the Broncos, and the game was over.

Though the Chargers’ quick march down the field wasn’t ideal, Fangio said it made sense to allow the Chargers to pick up short passes in the middle of the field. On the Chargers’ six passes during that last drive, the Broncos tackled the receiver in bounds on five occasions. That kept the clock running and limited what a timeout-less Chargers offense could do.

“With the 10-point lead there and the [amount of] time left, I know it’s frustrating and boring to see us play the way we played that last series, but I just think it was the right thing to do with where we were at in the secondary at that time, the receivers they had,” Fangio explained. “Even if they had gotten that onside kick, there would’ve been time for just one Hail Mary. So [it is] frustrating — I don’t like it any more than anybody else does — but I do believe it was the right percentage play at that point. And if we had tackled just a little bit better, it wouldn’t have looked as bad.”

A MUCH-IMPROVED PERFORMANCE

After allowing 269 rushing yards against the Jaguars, the Broncos’ defense performed far better against the Chargers.

Ekeler and Melvin Gordon combined for just 38 rushing yards, and the Chargers’ offense tallied just six points.

“We hammered them last week, as [the media] did, and deservedly so for our second-half performance last week,” Fangio said after the win. “You’ve got to give them their due this week. They played their butts off, [allowing] no points in the first half, got the interception in the end zone after they got a takeaway down in there tight. They just kept fighting. They’ve been doing that all year, but the results haven’t been there. They really played great and, really, the defense deserves a pat on the back.”

The Broncos’ defense now ranks 22nd in the league in rushing defense. The team entered the game 30th in the NFL.

ANOTHER 100-YARD DAY

Running back Phillip Lindsay turned in his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and the fourth of his career.

Lindsay, who scored a touchdown on the opening drive, earned many of those yards on chunk plays. On the Broncos’ last full offensive series, he broke runs of 32 yards and 12 yards to put the Broncos in field-goal range.

“It’s awesome to see Phil get going,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He’s an awesome running back and played so hard, you can see how hard he runs and the kind of guy he is. It’s awesome to see him break out and have a big day for us.” 

Fangio, though, would like to see more consistency from a running game that totaled 191 yards but was stagnant at times on Sunday.

“He busted a couple [runs] there, which got him up to all those yards,” Fangio said. “I’d just like to see a little bit more consistency in our running game. It seems like we popped some nice gains, but we weren’t able to grind it out when we needed to.”

EXPLAINING A SURPRISE INACTIVE

Defensive Adam Gotsis was inactive Sunday for the first time in his career, and Fangio said the decision was based off of a desire to add Mike Purcell to the mix on the defensive line.

“I wanted to get Mike Purcell [active for the game],” Fangio said. “The best thing Mike does is play the run, and we can only dress five, so one of those guys had to go down as inactive. And [Defensive Line Coach] Bill [Kollar] and I discussed it, and we chose Adam this week. That doesn’t mean it has to be that way all the time.”

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