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Chargers

Chargers’ Austin Ekeler fumbles another chance to score touchdown just before end zone

The Broncos’ Malik Reed, 59,  looks to the official for a ruling after it appeared as if Chargers running back Austin Ekeler had fumbled at the one-yard line.
The Broncos’ Malik Reed, 59, looks to the official for a ruling after it appeared as if Chargers running back Austin Ekeler had fumbled at the one-yard line.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It’s debatable whether Austin Ekeler would have scored Sunday on the final play of the first half.

But there’s no questioning Ekeler wishes he hadn’t fumbled.

“This is the NFL,” he said. “You lose games doing that. It’s a crucial time. It’s like, ‘OK, we got all the way down here. Now, we have to finish the drive.’ I gotta hang on to the ball.”

Down 17-0 and facing fourth-and-goal at the Denver one-yard line, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn decided to forgo a field-goal attempt to try for the touchdown.

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The play featured some misdirection, with Melvin Gordon heading around the right end and Ekeler criss-crossing the opposite way in front of quarterback Philip Rivers, who was in the shotgun formation.

Rivers flipped the ball to Ekeler as he charged for the pylon. Denver cornerback Isaac Yiadom chased after him and safety Kareem Jackson readied to meet Ekeler near the goal line.

As he began to extend for the orange marker, Ekeler lost the ball when Jackson hit him, the fumble resulting in a touchback with time expiring.

“I don’t know how much of an edge I actually had on him,” Ekeler said. “I was just locked in on the pylon.”

Mistakes on defense and an ineffective offensive attack that hardly benefited from Melvin Gordon’s return led to the Chargers’ 20-13 loss to the Denver Broncos.

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Asked if he felt he would have scored, he added, “If I held on to the ball, yeah, I do. He just hit my arm.”

The fumble marked the second time this season that Ekeler has lost the ball within one yard of the end zone. Through five games, the Chargers have had four turnovers in goal-to-go situations.

“There’s been a few hiccups there,” Ekeler said. “I’ve had two now. Whatever it is, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. … It’s definitely a learning experience when you get down there. I’ve had two harsh learning experiences with that.”

Center change

Center Mike Pouncey suffered a neck injury on the first possession of the third quarter and didn’t return, forcing left guard Dan Feeney to move to center and Forrest Lamp to assume left guard.

Feeney’s first snap to quarterback Rivers in the shotgun formation was a bit of a knuckleball, and some of his snaps weren’t as crisp as Pouncey’s usually are. But there were no errant snaps or fumbles between the center and quarterback.

“I wish I had eyes in the back of my head so I could see them,” Feeney said of his snaps. “It’s a little bit of a different position, but I think it went OK, and Lamp did a good job at guard. It’s unfortunate to see Mike go down, but that’s the game we play. We have to be prepared.”

Veteran Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has been in this boat before, another slow start at 2-3, and knows playoff chances hinge on a fast recovery.

After the game, Lynn said he had no update on Pouncey’s health.

The offensive line did not yield any sacks, and Rivers was hurried only twice. But the Chargers netted only 35 yards rushing and 211 passing.

“It just took us a while to get going,” Feeney said. “We didn’t put enough oil in the machine, something like that. I don’t really know exactly what it is. Everybody was just a little bit off. It’s tough to say. We came out flat, didn’t play our best game.”

Nwosu excels

Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram missed the game because of a hamstring injury. In his absence, Uchenna Nwosu started and excelled. The second-year player out of USC finished with seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble when he knocked the ball free from Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco.

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Afterward, however, Nwosu, as with the rest of the Chargers, was left lamenting another difficult loss.

“It was very frustrating,” he said. “We knew this team coming in was desperate. Hell, we’re desperate too. To lose a game like this is very upsetting.”

Bausby seems OK

Broncos cornerback De’Vante Bausby suffered a neck injury. He had movement in all his extremities and was taken to a hospital for further evaluation. Bausby was diagnosed with a cervical sprain and released Sunday afternoon. He rejoined the team for its flight back to Denver, according to team spokesman Patrick Smyth.

70 yards long

Courtland Sutton’s 70-yard touchdown reception wasn’t just the longest play of the game, but also Denver’s longest scoring play from scrimmage since Bennie Fowler’s 76-yarder against Kansas City on Nov. 27, 2016.

The Chargers allowed the Broncos to score touchdowns on their first two drives, and, despite some stout defensive play that followed, the visitors got the win.

Sutton finished with a game-high 92 yards receiving on four catches and is the first Broncos receiver to amass 400-plus yards in his first five games of the season since Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas in 2015.

Broncos’ Reed in rush

It doesn’t show up in the stats sheet, where he’s credited with two tackles, but the game featured an impressive performance by the Broncos’ Malik Reed. The undrafted rookie from Nevada was all over the field, frequently applying pressure to Rivers.

Teammate Von Miller calls Reed the “dream killer” for the way he harasses quarterbacks, and the rookie figures to see a lot more action because of the season-ending knee injury to Bradley Chubb.

An undrafted free agent has made Denver’s roster 15 of the past 16 seasons.

Winning start

Not only was this the 500th victory in Broncos history, but also the team had a couple of breakthroughs Sunday. Denver scored on its opening possession, something it hadn’t done in the past 13 games, and it had three takeaways after zero in the first four games.


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