Chargers begin uphill climb in clash vs. Broncos

Field Level Media

December 09, 2023 at 3:26 am.

The Los Angeles Chargers have everything that an NFL team needs to win.

Their quarterback has the skills of a franchise player. They also have one of the league’s best receivers, solid pass rushers and special teams performers.

Yet they are on the outside looking in prior to Sunday’s home game with the Denver Broncos. At 5-7, Los Angeles has no fewer than five teams to pass in the season’s final five weeks if it wants to earn an AFC playoff spot.

Only the Kansas City Chiefs have a winning record among the Chargers’ final opponents. They have two meetings with Denver (6-6), a Thursday night game next week in Las Vegas (5-7) against the Raiders and a Dec. 23 encounter with the visiting Buffalo Bills (6-6).

“We just need to go on a run and we need to use this momentum on to next week,” safety Derwin James said after last week’s win over the Patriots. “It was a great win and it was a great team win.”

Los Angeles’ defense limited the Patriots to 257 yards and 13 first downs, logging five sacks for 32 yards. NFL sack leader Khalil Mack got two more, giving him 15 — all in the last nine games — and bringing him within a half-sack of 100 for his career.

Justin Herbert struggled in the wind and rain last week in Foxborough, Mass., but still threw for 212 yards. Keenan Allen caught five more passes, putting him at 102 for the year and in position to shatter his single-season best of 106 set two years ago.

The Chargers also got an incredible performance from punter JK Scott last week. He downed seven of his 10 punts inside the New England 20 in a display reminiscent of Mike Scifres in a playoff win against Indianapolis 15 years ago.

Denver saw its five-game winning streak end last week with a 22-17 loss in Houston. The Broncos nearly erased a 16-3 deficit in the third quarter but Russell Wilson tossed his third interception with nine seconds left to deal their playoff chances a major blow.

“We’ve had our backs against the wall earlier in the year,” Wilson said. “I know these guys in this locker room aren’t going to blink. We’re going to keep believing. The good thing is we can play better. We know that.”

Wilson, 35, has lifted his standard of play significantly from the early season, when many wondered if he was washed up. He’s thrown for 21 touchdown passes and just seven picks while adding 310 rushing yards, good for second on the team.

The Denver defense also has looked more like its old self after a 1-5 start. The Broncos have not allowed more than 22 points in the last seven games.

Herbert will be without one of his top wideouts for another week with receiver Josh Palmer (knee) being listed as out for Sunday’s game. Offensive tackle
Zack Bailey (back) and cornerback Deane Leonard (ankle/heel) are also out, while linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga (hamstring) and defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia (knee) are questionable.

Running back Samaje Perine (knee) is the lone Broncos player carrying an injury designation for the game. Perine is listed as questionable after not practicing Friday.