Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin points to cheering fans after scoring on a 65-yard punt return in the first half.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers defensive back Desmond King leaps in the air to celebrate with cornerback Casey Hayward after intercepting a pass late in the game.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Travis Benjamin (12) celebrates with fellow Chargers receiver Keenan Allen (13) after scoring on a 42-yard pass play during the second half.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers defensive end Tenny Palepoi is double-teamed by Broncos offensive guard Max Garcia and center Matt Paradis (61) during the second half.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin breaks away from the Broncos defense to score on a 65-yard-run in the first half.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen sets up a touchdown with this run before getting tackled by Broncos free safety Bradley Roby in the first half.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin, middle, is congratulated by teammate Keenan Allen (13) after scoring on a 65-yard return during the first half.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram sacks Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian during the first half.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers cornerback Michael Davis left, and outside linebacker Kyle Emanuel bring down Broncos wide receiver Hunter Sharp (15) in the first half.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
The pads, the helmets, the rules, the 300-pound mountains of flesh usually keep the most important player on the field — the quarterback — out of harm’s way.
But sometimes, when the ingredients are just right, an uncomfortable amount of punishment can be served.
It’s why you weren’t wrong to hold your breath every time Denver snapped the ball to Trevor Siemian. It’s why the gasps were totally justified every time the Chargers smashed their bodies into his.
He needed your thoughts. He needed your prayers. And, he really needed better blocking.
The Chargers’ defensive line, a group that fashions itself among the best — if not the best — in the NFL, took complete control Sunday in a 21-0 win at StubHub Center.
The Chargers have now won three straight, tied for the longest streak in the AFC. They’re just two games back in the division after beginning the year 0-4.
It was also the Chargers’ first home win of the season and their first as a home team in Los Angeles since Dec. 18, 1960.
Defensive ends Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Chris McCain combined to sack Siemian five times in the Chargers’ first shutout in 50 games. It was the first time a defense had shut the Broncos out since 1992.
“We have a great group, our defensive line,” defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. “It’s one of the best in the NFL. And our job, no matter what’s in front of us or behind us, we want to make it known that we came out to play.”
Sunday, everyone knew it — especially Siemian.
The officials even took a sack away from Ingram after he was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
On the play, Ingram ducked from the outside of the defensive line to the inside, evading contact with any offensive linemen. And with a full head of steam, Ingram put his shoulder right into the top of Siemian’s chest.
Before the Denver quarterback could be scraped back up, the flags hit the field.
“I think he just hit him too hard,” Mebane said.
“You seen it,” Ingram said. “It was BS, man.”
But even the flags couldn’t stop the Chargers defense.
They went toe to toe with the Broncos, maybe the best defense in the NFL, and outplayed them.
Denver gained only 12 first downs; the Chargers had 14. The Broncos rushed for only 69 yards; the Chargers gained 80. Denver gained 251 total yards; the Chargers picked up 242.
“I thought they had a really good day on defense as well,” Bosa said.
But, there was a key difference.
The Chargers forced three turnovers; Denver got zero.
Safety Adrian Phillips set the tone on the game’s opening drive. After being badly beaten by tight end A.J. Derby, Phillips recovered, got back into the play and stripped the ball loose, with linebacker Jatavis Brown recovering. Later in the game, McCain forced Siemian to fumble and Damion Square fell on the ball, and cornerback Casey Hayward picked off an errant pass on fourth down.
Brown and safety Jahleel Addae also dropped what would best be classified as “I-don’t-know-how-that-didn’t-end-up-as-intercepted” passes.
And, in a trend reversal, the Chargers stopped the run.
“We knew Denver was going to try and run the football on us with our stats and what we’re giving in the rush and with their game. And, we stepped up,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “Our guys worked on it all week. It was emphasized and they did our job.”
And, it allowed players in other phases to do theirs.
Benjamin would later find the end zone on a play changed by the Chargers at the line of scrimmage on third and long in the fourth quarter.
Philip Rivers signaled Benjamin into a quick slant route, and the receiver dashed all the way across the field and into the end zone for a 42-yard score.
Rookie Austin Ekeler also scored on a one-yard pass after the team was stopped four times from the one-yard line earlier in the game.
That the scoring is kind of a footnote isn’t by accident.
Sunday, it really didn’t matter.
“To come out there and shut out a professional football team is not easy,” safety Tre Boston said. “For us to do that, to play well in three phases, that’s a team win right there. Like I’ve been preaching, keep believing, keep sticking with us, we’re gonna get it done.”
For the last three weeks, the Chargers have gotten it done — albeit a bit surprisingly. Instead of relying on an offense with flashy names such as Rivers, Antonio Gates, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen, it’s been the defense that’s been stellar — pitching a shutout after stifling the Raiders and the Giants in the previous two weeks.
“We’re trying to make a statement,” Ingram said.
And, Sunday, no one heard that statement clearer than the Broncos and their quarterback.