It’s not often that a holding penalty really ends a game, but that’s exactly what Denver Broncos’ tackle Russell Okung managed to do last night. In a game that was defined for the Broncos as a sloppy play, that penalty really showed why they couldn’t do anything against a Chargers team that is last in the AFC West.
The Broncos had been down by three scores when a late touchdown pass to Bennie Fowler at least gave them a flicker of life. To be honest, it felt a bit like a garbage touchdown when it happened, something that wouldn’t matter and would just make the score look closer than it was.
But then the offense got the ball back, and they looked like they had life for the first time all night. They were making catches and actually running after the catch. Running back CJ Anderson was finding space and moving the chains. With under five minutes to go, after not being able to move the ball at all for most of the game, they were driving into position.
Then Anderson caught a pass, yet another check-down, and pinballed off defenders. Breaking tackles and running hard, he scampered into the end zone.
There was a brief moment of elation for Denver. The Broncos had now scored two touchdowns in a row. All of the momentum was on their side. They looked fired up and rejuvenated. They were down by merely five points (before the extra point), and they had more than enough time to get another stop, with three time outs and the two-minute warning. They were going to come back after the Chargers’ win percentage had hit 98.8, handing them another incredible loss.
But wait. Another flag. Penalties had already erased big plays throughout the game. This time, it was Okung, grabbing Chargers’ pass rusher Kyle Emanuel, basically hugging him to keep him from getting to quarterback Trevor Siemian.
The touchdown was nullified, and with it went all of that momentum from an offense that had struggled to find any all night. Siemian was crushed on a sack on the next play; maybe the line just couldn’t protect him if they couldn’t hold. He threw another short pass to WR Demaryius Thomas a play after that, Thomas tried to run into contact with the arm that was holding the ball and fumbled.
In just seconds, the Broncos went from rallying to get a win to virtually no hope. Yes, they were still able to get a field goal and a Hail Mary attempt – which not only wasn’t caught but didn’t even reach the end zone – but the game changed dramatically with that hold. Had it not happened, that touchdown pass to Anderson would have a turning point and could well have handed the Broncos the game. Instead, it just summed up the sloppy play all night.
You don’t have to look far to find it. The defense started incredibly slowly and got gashed repeatedly by rookie tight end Hunter Henry. The offensive line was called for another holding penalty in the endzone that resulted in a safety. Wide receiver Jordan Taylor fumbled before Thomas did, killing another drive. Brandon McManus missed a field goal that, had he made it, would have allowed the Broncos to drive for a touchdown with their second-to-last possession, rather than a field goal. On that field goal, they had to rush the kick team out, burning precious time, because Siemian inexplicably threw the ball in the middle of the field and short of the first down.
Overall, the Broncos were called for 12 penalties for 103 yards, while the Chargers were only called for three penalties for 20 yards. In a lot of ways, that’s the game right there. That takes away an entire field-length drive from an offense that already looked pretty horrible and unable to move the ball. In reality, those penalties ended multiple drives. When you throw in that one penalty gifted the Chargers two points and another directly took seven points off the board for the Broncos, it’s a nine-point swing at the very least.
Since the Broncos lost by eight, that’s pretty significant.