For once the Denver Broncos rallied when their 10th straight AFC West road loss seemed imminent.
All the things that were going wrong in the first 10 weeks of the season finally worked out for the Broncos. Case Keenum was making clutch passes and his receivers were hauling in big receptions with time running out. And Brando McManus hitting a game-winning field goal two weeks after walking off the field at Mile High Stadium after having missed one.
His 34-yard field goal as time expired gave Denver a stunning 23-22 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
“It feels good, it does,” Keenum told reporters after the game. “A lot better than the alternative.”
Denver had come close in so many games. The three-point loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the near miss against Kansas City in Week 4 and the heartbreak two weeks ago when McManus missed a field goal that would have beaten Houston.
The plays they couldn’t make in those losses were made Sunday, and Denver (4-6) rallied from 12 points down two win a division road game for the first time since December 2015.
“Division game, we knew that we couldn’t afford to let another one slid,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We just wanted to come out here and win. This team deserves a win. Guys put so much work, fighting every week, just ignoring the noise and staying together. We deserve to win the game.”
Keenum, signed in the offseason, delivered a game-winning drive the Broncos envisioned when they made him the starting quarterback.
And Courtland Sutton showed why Demaryius Thomas became expendable. He had three receptions for 78 yards and none bigger than his 30-yard catch-and-run that set up McManus’ winning kick.
The Broncos could point to other key plays. There was Von Miller’s interception that stopped a Chargers’ drive that was building toward a game-clinching touchdown in the third quarter, and Phillip Lindsay’s 41-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
A win over a streaking team might not save the season but it made the Broncos happy for one day.
WATCH YOUR BACK, CASE: Keenum wasn’t the only guy on the team to have a big completion. Punter Colby Wadman pulled off a successful fake punt that led to Denver’s first touchdown and gave Denver a jolt.
The Broncos had fourth-and-5 from its own 47 early in the second quarter, so Wadman came on to punt it away. Instead of kicking it, he pulled it down and then hit fullback Andy Janovich for a 12-yard gain.
One play later Lindsay scored on a 41-yard scamper to give the Broncos a 7-6 lead.
The fake punt is a play the Broncos practice often, and it paid off.
“Every single time we ran it we were completing it,” Waldman said after the game. “Going into it I was super confident. (Head) coach (Vance Joseph) was really confident about it. We felt really good about it.”
VON COMES THROUGH: Miller is a nightmare for quarterbacks when he rushes off the edge, but the linebacker proved to be a menace when he drops back into coverage.
Late in the third quarter Los Angeles quarterback Phillip Rivers tried to connect with Travis Benjamin near the Denver 40 but Miller stepped in and picked it off. He nearly scored but was tackled at the Chargers 18. Three plays later, Royce Freeman scored to cut L.A.’s lead to 19-14.
“I thought I was going to the house,” Miller said after the game. “I took five or six long steps and I ran. Then I felt his hand on me. He was on me, he knocked the ball but I was able to keep the ball as I’m going down.”
INJURY UPDATE: Joseph said wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton aggravated a previous injury to his knee and wasn’t able to return. Hamilton, a rookie, was expected to get more playing time but had just one catch for four yards before exiting.
Joseph said Hamilton’s injury isn’t as serious as the one that kept him out the previous two games.
Cornerback Bradly Roby left the game with a head injury and is being evaluated for a concussion.