DENVER — For a moment, the Chargers appeared poised to take a chance of their own.
Facing a fourth-and-1 at the Broncos' 29-yard line, Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles offense lined up as if they were going to run a play. Rivers approached the line and attempted to draw the Broncos' defense offside. Denver's unit stayed disciplined, the Chargers called a timeout and Michael Badgley ran out to kick a 46-yard field goal.
Badgley drilled the kick, tied the game at 20 with 19 seconds to play and the two AFC West rivals appeared poised for overtime. The Broncos' last overtime game came in Week 12 of the 2016 season, and it seemed as if they would head to the extra frame.
At first, Denver's coaching staff felt the same way. But Head Coach Vic Fangio wanted to play for the win.
"The first thought that the offensive coach said [was], 'Just take a knee,'" Fangio said after the game. "I said, 'No.' First, I was looking for a play that could get a big chunk over the middle [and then] bang a timeout. We didn't like that as much. I said, 'Let's go down the sideline and see what happens.'"
Drew Lock took the shotgun snap, dropped back a few more feet and launched a ball down the right sideline. It would have been his 29th attempt of the afternoon, but Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. made contact with Courtland Sutton while the ball was in the air.
The referee in the vicinity threw a flag, and the Broncos gained 37 yards in penalty yardage. The call put the ball at the Los Angeles 35-yard line, and Brandon McManus knocked the game winner in after the Chargers called a timeout to ice him.
"We singled Courtland up by himself," Lock said. "They gave us a look where I had a chance to get it to him, and when we put it up, it was kind of like an onion sandwich, put a little layer on it, and it worked out and they got the pass interference."
Sutton, who caught four passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns, said he wasn't surprised the official threw a flag.
"I think in that situation, they know they've got to throw that flag," Sutton said. "I get what you're saying, [that] they don't want to throw it at an end-of-game situation, but if you make them throw it — playing through the defender and making a play for the ball — they have to call it no matter what."
When Sutton found out the Broncos were going to take a shot rather than play for overtime, he said he was "really happy."
"We don't ever know what the decision's going to be, because that's above us," Sutton said. "We just go out there and run the play that's called. If they would've called a QB kneel, they'd have called a QB kneel, and we'd have went into overtime. But them giving us a chance to go make a play and giving the team a chance to win the game, it was awesome."
The coaching staff's decision and the ensuing execution proved to be the difference in a tight game.
TO KICK OR NOT TO KICK?
At the end of the first half, both Lock and McManus trotted onto the field as the Broncos prepared to take the final snap of the half from the Chargers' 47-yard line.
McManus was called back off the field and he showed his frustration as he tossed his helmet on the sideline. At halftime, McManus returned to the same spot to attempt the kick in non-game conditions.
"I know I can make the kick, and this is a storied game that I grew up watching," McManus said after the game. "It was a dream of mine to play in this league, and if I was able to have my name etched as the longest field goal in NFL history, I would love that. That's why I would have loved to kick the attempt."
Fangio, though, said he didn't want to take McManus out of his normal routine for the rest of the game.
"I didn't want to try the 65-yarder," Fangio said. "At that point, I didn't think it was desperation. I've seen many times where guys go out there and try extra-long kicks. They alter the mechanics and it affects [them] the rest of the game. I'm going to say that that decision not to let him go out there for the 65-yarder led him to making the 52- and 53-yarder."
McManus said any frustration was just part of the "ebbs and flows of the game" and that he and Fangio remain on good terms.
"One hundred percent," McManus said. "Like I said, kicking is a completely mental game. You battle the struggles, the ebbs and flows of it. ... We deal with a lot of the same scrutiny. He has to make decisions, and I have to make pressured kicks. At the end of the day, I'm mad because I didn't get to kick, and in his mind, he made the right decision for the team. I have no problem with that, but like I said, I would love to have my name in the history books."
McManus found a different way to etch his name in Broncos history. He is just the second kicker in Denver's history to make multiple 50-yard field goals in the fourth quarter or overtime of the same game. McManus now has made six game-winning kicks in his career, and his 53-yarder is 14 yards longer than his second-longest game winner.
A RANGE OF EMOTIONS
As Fangio left the field and headed toward the locker room, he went through a range of emotions that accompany any NFL season.
That's to be expected, especially after the Broncos were on the other end of a last-second field goal. Against the Bears, Jaguars and Colts, the Broncos fell victim to last-minute kicks. They reversed the trend Sunday, and Fangio said relief was part of the emotional spectrum. But as he talked about his emotions, it seems as if pride accompanied that relief.
"Unfortunately, in this profession, relief is a big emotion you feel," Fangio said. "Some of it was that. I was happy for the guys. This team has fought pretty hard through thick and thin. Even in last week's game against a good Buffalo team up there, [it] was six-nothing at halftime. We haven't had a clunker yet. I know you might say the Kansas City game was, but that was a game with a bunch of short fields. They scored a touchdown on defense. These guys have been fighting and playing their butts off all year. [I'm] really happy for them that they can get a W."