The situation was desperate, almost as desperate as the catch was absurd.
At least to everyone, apparently, but the man who authored the grab.
“I’ve made catches like that before,” Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams said. “So, I mean, it was routine.”
As routine as any one-handed catch over a flailing defender for a 38-yard gain to convert fourth and 11 in a three-point game with two minutes to go.
“One of the best catches I’ve ever seen,” teammate Keenan Allen said. “It was quite a visual.”
Said running back Melvin Gordon: “I’m not shocked. That’s what he does. He did it in college, probably in high school too. That’s what he does.”
The Chargers were clinging to possibly their final hope when they faced fourth and one at their 34-yard line with 2:22 remaining. They trailed Denver 20-17.
Then, left guard Dan Feeney was called for a false start. Then, left tackle Russell Okung was called for a false start.
The situation deteriorated to fourth and 11 by the time Williams took off on a route up the left sideline. And things actually would get more desperate. About 15 yards in, Williams stumbled and nearly fell.
Afterward, he explained that Denver cornerback Isaac Yiadom inadvertently helped him stay up.
“He reached out and put his hands on me,” Williams said. “I appreciate him for that.”
Quarterback Philip Rivers, as has become a custom with this offense, lofted the ball in the direction of Williams hoping for the best.
Yiadom was on Williams tightly, with Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson also closing.
“Once he threw it, I was, ‘Oh, damn,’ ” Allen said. “Two people were there. It was trouble. He somehow made the catch. I was yelling at [Denver cornerback] Chris Harris, ‘We back!’ Crazy catch, though.”
Williams secured the ball with his outstretched left hand and wrestled away possession with Yiadom also clutching it as both fell. The play gave the Chargers the ball at the Denver 38-yard line as the two-minute warning arrived.
“It was fourth and 11,” Williams said, matter of factly. “Make a play. Phil threw the ball to me. I had to make a play on it.”
Four plays later, Michael Badgley kicked a 46-yard field goal to tie the score 20-20. With 14 seconds left, the Chargers appeared to be going to overtime, at worst.
“After Mike made that catch, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re for sure winning now,’ ” Gordon said. “I liked our chances then.”
But a costly pass interference call doomed the Chargers to another gut-wrenching loss.
Williams finished with 117 yards on five receptions, his second career 100-yard game. He also had a 52-yard catch to set up an Austin Ekeler touchdown reception late in the first half.
Allen sky high
Allen had one of the more visually stunning touchdowns of his career early in the fourth quarter when he went skyward to reach the end zone.
At the end of a 36-yard scoring play, Allen attempted to leap over Denver safety Will Parks. He didn’t quite make it but still secured the six points as he crash landed.
“It was just me and him,” Allen said. “I really didn’t want contact, to be honest with you. ... I like to stay on my feet. I just wanted to get in.”
The play was one Allen suggested to the coaching staff based on something he had seen in the game. Trailing 17-10, offensive coordinator Shane Steichen took Allen’s advice.
“He dialed it up,” Allen said. “Perfect timing. They gave us the perfect defense and me and Phil were able to connect.”
All-Pro safety Derwin James made his season debut, finishing with four tackles, including one for loss. Fellow safety Adrian Phillips also returned after being out since breaking his arm in Week 2. He was credited with four tackles.
The offensive line also received a boost with starting tackles Okung and Sam Tevi coming back.
“We had a great chance, getting so many guys back,” Gordon said. “But it wasn’t enough.”
Rivers got flowing
After another rocky start, Rivers rebounded to finish 20 for 29 for 265 yards and the touchdowns to Ekeler and Allen.
Coming off back-to-back games in which he threw seven interceptions, Rivers was picked off in the first quarter when he tried to find Ekeler on a screen pass but instead hit Denver rookie defensive end Dre’Mont Jones.
Six plays later, the Broncos scored their second touchdown to go up 14-0.
“He didn’t start out well, but I thought he finished strong,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “I thought he put us in a position to win the game at the end.”
After the interception, backup Tyrod Taylor was warming up on the sideline, but Lynn afterward dismissed that as Taylor simply trying to stay loose.
The Chargers’ issues with punt returns continued when a Troymaine Pope muff set up a second-quarter Broncos field goal. … Brandon Facyson started in place of suspended cornerback Michael Davis and led the Chargers with nine tackles. Rookie linebacker Drue Tranquill had seven tackles.