In their home finale on New Year's Eve, the Broncos gave their fans at Empower Field at Mile High plenty to celebrate in a 16-9 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Denver's victory secured its first regular-season sweep of an opponent since 2019 and gives the Broncos the opportunity to secure their first winning record since 2016 with a win against the Raiders in Week 18.
Denver never trailed in its divisional matchup, using a positive turnover margin, a dominant defensive performance and mistake-free football from its offense to shut down the Chargers. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham won his first start as a Bronco, completing 20 of 32 pass attempts for 224 yards and a touchdown, while wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey made one of Denver's best plays of the season on a 54-yard catch-and-run for a score in the second quarter. Defensively, the Broncos held Los Angeles below 10 points for the second time this season and did not allow the Chargers to score a touchdown. Denver's special-teams unit rounded out the effort, adding a key fourth-down stop on a fake punt and a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter. A couple days after the Broncos' emphatic win, here's a look back at seven plays that made a difference in Denver's eighth win.
RB Javonte Williams showcases his stiff arm and rips off a 16-yard gain
Situation: Second-and-1 from the Los Angeles 32, 5:48 remaining in the first quarter, tied at 0-0
Breakdown: Head Coach Sean Payton said one of the ways he looked to get new starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham in a rhythm was through establishing the ground game. The Broncos did exactly that on their first scoring drive of the game, relying on their three-pronged rushing attack of running backs Javonte Williams, Samaje Perine and Jaleel McLaughlin to advance deep into Los Angeles territory. Perine started off a three-play sequence of run plays with a third-and-2 conversion, then McLaughlin followed it up by flashing his burst and elusive running style on a 9-yard gain. On second-and-1, it was Williams' turn. Williams took a handoff from Stidham and had plenty of open field to work with thanks to sound blocking from Denver's front. Williams veered to the outside as Humphrey brushed off a Chargers defender in the flat to pick up the first down and followed it up by stiff-arming Los Angeles All-Pro safety Derwin James. The third-year back then spun out of James' grasp and powered forward as a pack of Chargers defenders attempted to slow him down. Williams' strength and assistance from guard Quinn Meinerz extended the gain to 16 yards, the longest rush by either team during the game. Four plays later, kicker Wil Lutz connected on a 32-yard field goal to give Denver its first lead of the afternoon.
They Said It: "That's my guy. [Javonte] comes in and he tells me what to do, tells me even what I do wrong. So to have a brother like that — [a] North Carolina brother, by the way — that is able to talk to me like that [is important]. I can come to him about anything. I'm definitely proud to be back there with him and Samaje, as well." - McLaughlin
WR Lil'Jordan Humphrey weaves and jukes his way to a 54-yard touchdown reception
Situation: Third-and-8 from the Denver 46, 6:52 remaining in the second quarter, tied at 3-3
Breakdown: In the second quarter, the Broncos found the big play they were looking for to take control of the game. Los Angeles brought a blitz on third-and-long, and Stidham stepped up in a well-protected pocket to extend the play. While being chased by All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack, Stidham fired a pass to Humphrey, who found separation on his in-breaking route and caught the pass cleanly for the first down. Humphrey wasn't done yet. The veteran receiver stopped on a dime, allowing him to juke past two Los Angeles defensive backs, then made a cut toward the right sideline that sent another Chargers defender spinning to the ground. Downfield blocks from wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and fullback Michael Burton partially cleared Humphrey's path to the end zone, and a last-ditch attempt by two Chargers to take down the 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver failed to stop him from reaching paydirt. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Humphrey's 54-yard touchdown reception — the game's only touchdown — boosted the Broncos' win probability by 14.1 percentage points, up to 72.9 percent.
They Said It: "I saw them bring the blitz, and I had a lane to step up and I thought about taking off and running. I just saw him out of the corner of my eye and gave him a ball, and he made an incredible play. At first, I thought he was down on the [Los Angeles] 1, so I was kind of bummed, but then I saw that they called a touchdown. So heck of a play by him and the rest of the guys for blocking down field." – Stidham
Broncos stuff Chargers on failed fourth-and-1 attempt
Situation: Defending fourth-and-1 from the Los Angeles 44, 2:55 remaining in the second quarter, Denver leading 10-3
Breakdown: Los Angeles' opportunity to respond to Humphrey's score fell flat, with the promising drive culminating in a botched fourth-down conversion attempt that rookie inside linebacker Drew Sanders stopped in its tracks. Still in their own territory, the Chargers decided to roll the dice and attempt a fake punt, but linebacker Nick Niemann lost control of the football while accelerating toward the first down. Sanders wrapped up Niemann with both arms and dragged him to the ground, giving the Broncos their sixth fourth-down stop against Los Angeles this season. While the play did not technically count as a takeaway, Sanders' tackle for a loss gave Denver's offense possession inside Los Angeles territory with plenty of time left in the second quarter to attack the end zone. The Broncos' offense converted the stop into a 43-yard Lutz field goal, extending the Broncos' lead to 13-3.
They Said It: "I feel like this defense has been pretty solid all year. We just have to find a way to keep getting better individually and collectively. I'm really just proud of the unit, especially how we came out this game compared to what happened last game." – outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper
DT D.J. Jones records third forced fumble of the season for Denver's first takeaway
Situation: Defending first-and-10 from the Los Angeles 38, 15:00 remaining in the fourth quarter, Denver leading 13-6
Breakdown: Breakdown: Humphrey's 54-yard touchdown catch was the defining highlight of the Broncos' first-half effort, and in the second half, defensive tackle D.J. Jones made a game-changing play for the defense. On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Chargers quarterback Easton Stick lined up in shotgun formation and handed the ball to running back Austin Ekeler, who attempted to break through a gap between Jones and outside linebacker Nik Bonitto. Jones stripped the football from Ekeler's grasp, and inside linebacker Josey Jewell secured the free football for the Broncos' first takeaway. The forced fumble swung Denver's win expectancy by 12.7 percentage points to 88.2 percent and allowed Stidham and the Broncos' offense to take over in Los Angeles territory for the second time during the game. For Jones, the spectacular play was nothing new. The forced fumble was Jones' third forced fumble of the season, most by a Denver defensive tackle since at least 1994.
They Said It: "It's expected. From our side of the ball, it's just how we hold ourselves to a high standard. Coming into this game, I feel we somewhat improved as a defense. Last week wasn't our best output. But we had a plan to come here and dominate, and that's what we did." – cornerback Pat Surtain II
WR Jerry Jeudy draws pass interference on fourth-down deep shot
Situation: Fourth-and-1 from the Los Angeles 29, 12:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, Denver leading 13-6
Breakdown: The Broncos continued their aggressive approach to start the final quarter, opting to attempt a fourth-and-short opportunity instead of a long Lutz field goal. Instead of a conventional inside rush play, Stidham took the snap and launched a pass toward the end zone in the direction of Jeudy, who was in tight one-on-one coverage. Jeudy couldn't come up with the catch, but he succeeded in drawing a defensive pass interference penalty that resulted in a gain of 28 yards and a fresh set of downs. The penalty advanced Denver to the Los Angeles 1-yard-line and ultimately led to a Lutz chip-shot field goal to make the contest a two-possession game. Even with the Chargers' success in holding the Broncos to three points, Jeudy's drawn pass interference increased the Broncos' win probability by 4.1 percentage points to 90.9 percent and turned out to be a costly miscue for Los Angeles.
They Said It: "My job is to come in here and move the chains and score points and ultimately, win. … I thought we did some really good things offensively. I thought the O-line played incredible tonight. Obviously, when we get in the low red [zone], we have to put the ball in. We had a couple chances and didn't do that, so we have to fix that, for sure." – Stidham
DE Zach Allen credited with field-goal block on Chargers' missed attempt
Situation: Defending fourth-and-5 from the Denver 32, 6:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, Denver leading 16-6
Breakdown: The Broncos' special-teams unit delivered again in the fourth quarter, preventing the Chargers from making it a one-score game midway through the final frame. Chargers kicker Cameron Dicker lined up for a 50-yard field goal, and while the distance increased the kick's degree of difficulty, Dicker had plenty of experience from long range; he entered the game 5-of-6 on attempts of 50 yards or longer. The Broncos succeeded in disrupting Dicker's attempt, bursting through the right side of the Los Angeles offensive line and affecting the ball's trajectory via defensive end Zach Allen's swat attempt. The kick lost its power and accuracy and hooked wide right. Denver chewed up 3:20 of the clock and forced Los Angeles to burn its final two timeouts on the ensuing drive, and the Chargers' 10-point, two-possession deficit remained intact for their final drive of the game.
They Said It: "We controlled our own destiny for the longest time, and it's tough, but what a big win for us at home. A sweep against the Chargers is huge and a chance for us next week to close out the season on a positive [note], going 9-8." – safety Justin Simmons
ILB Alex Singleton secures Broncos' eighth win by pouncing on loose onside kick
Situation: Defending onside kick attempt from the Los Angeles 35, 1:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, Denver leading 16-9
Breakdown: The Chargers opted to kick a field goal on second down with just over a minute remaining that made the matchup a one-score game, and their hopes of an upset hinged on a successful onside kick attempt to give them one last drive. Dicker's attempt made its way through the Denver formation and deflected off the hands of wide receiver Michael Bandy, but inside linebacker Alex Singleton saved the play and sealed the game by diving to the ground and recovering the loose football. Moments later, Stidham lined up in victory formation and kneeled twice to exhaust the remaining time, securing his first win as an NFL starting quarterback and giving the Broncos their eighth win of the season.
They Said It: "I think we played a pretty sound game. I think we continue to get better, and I think we played a game tonight that we should have played against that team." — Singleton