Chargers rookie kicker Younghoe Koo already had won over fans before he took the field.
They loved he was one of just a handful of Korean-born players to make it in pro football. They loved his name. They loved his backflip trick kick. They loved his story.
And, Monday night in Denver, it was about to get a perfect ending.
With five seconds left, Koo walked on the field and drilled a 44-yard field goal — a huge kick in a huge moment that ultimately didn’t count. Right before the ball was snapped, Denver coach Vance Joseph had called timeout, meaning the kick would need to be redone.
Koo didn’t make the second kick. He didn’t really miss it, either.
Denver attacked rookie guard Dan Feeney, sending two players at him. The pressure forced Feeney to swing open like a door, allowing Broncos lineman Shelby Harris into the backfield where he deflected the kick. On the waved-off kick, Feeney handled the double team just fine.
The Chargers lost — 24-21 — but in defeat they found even more confidence in their new kicker.
“I was impressed with his poise on the sidelines. I mean, he did not flinch,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Tuesday. “I had no doubt he was going to make the first one and the second one. And he would have made the second one if it wasn’t blocked. He has ice in his veins. That’s what I like about this young man.”
Koo said he was prepared for the moment — prepared for his first kick to be iced. Even after the loss, he spoke with confidence that if Harris’ hand had been inches to the left or right, the kick would’ve split the uprights.
Following the loss, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he was sure the second kick would’ve been good.
“I think he drilled the second one too,” Rivers said.
Koo’s confidence and his teammates’ reactions to him are part of the reason the team elected to go with Koo over Josh Lambo, the team’s kicker from the previous two seasons.
“You just watch him. You talk about body language — just watch his body language. He has a lot of swag,” Lynn said. “He’s very confident in his skills. His teammates believe in him. He’s a team builder. For a rookie, you don’t see that out of rookies a lot, especially at that position. A lot of times, kickers are a head case. But I guess this young man, he doesn’t know any better right now.”
The Chargers, who seem to be allergic to lopsided wins and losses, surely will have to count on Koo again, and when they do, players such as Tyrell Williams will lean on their experiences with the undrafted free agent.
“I saw he just had a demeanor like he was confident and he just knew he was going to make every kick,” Williams said. “I think definitely kickers have got to have that mind-set to come out there and know and not to be fearless.
“Like he said yesterday, it’s a kicker’s dream to come out there and have an opportunity like that, and I think he loved that opportunity. He knows he’s going to go in there and make it every time.”
Lynn said the Chargers largely came out of their season opener injury-free. Rookie safety Rayshawn Jenkins is in the league’s concussion protocol. Jenkins is a key performer on the Chargers’ special-teams units. Starting guard Kenny Wiggins sprained his right ankle, but Lynn said it didn’t seem too serious. … Lynn said he thought the offensive line did a good enough job in run blocking, but he felt the team needed to improve on first down and third down. He also said the needed to do a better job of tackling. … Lynn said running back Melvin Gordon needs to do a better job of winning one-on-one battles with linebackers and safeties.