Injured Hopkins Hits OT Game-Winner as Chargers Beat Broncos 19-16

Fans had long reached the point of considering that Monday night’s game between the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers could end in a tie, as defenses from both teams played lockdown football in sudden death, forcing four consecutive three-and-outs. But with one catastrophic mistake on special teams, a tie went out the window, and an overtime win materialized from an unlikely hero.

A muffed punt by the Broncos gave the Chargers the ball at Denver’s 28-yard line with under five minutes to play in the extra period. Capitalizing on the mistake, kicker Dustin Hopkins drilled a 39-yard field goal — his fourth of the game — to give the Chargers  a 19-16 victory over the Broncos in Los Angeles.

Heroic Hopkins

Out of the shadows stepped the hero the Chargers needed throughout Monday night’s game. Not quarterback Justin Herbert, or running back Austin Ekeler, or another playmaker on either side of the ball. Instead, it was Hopkins who delivered through an injury and gave the game its signature moment, as he laid on the field in pain after kicking the game-winner.

Hopkins injured his hamstring early in the game, badly enough that punter J.K. Scott was seen warming up to potentially take kicks in his stead. But every time L.A. had a field-goal attempt lined up, it was Hopkins who fought through the injury to come out and take the kick.

He had to do so four times in regulation, first on an extra point and then on field goals of 37, 31, and 35 yards. And then, he was called in for the game-winning kick, which gave him a perfect 4-for-4 performance, his first game with as many field goals since 2019.

Anticlimactic Overtime

Hopkins’ kick saved what was shaping up to be an anticlimactic way to end an overtime contest between division rivals. Ironically, with Halloween on the horizon, the extra period between the Broncos and Chargers was largely toothless to that point, as neither team did what it needed to to threaten a win.

Overtime began with four consecutive three-and-outs, the continuation of suffocating defense that had taken over the game after halftime. The longest drive of the extra period was 9 yards, and the most exciting play was the special teams mistake that set up Hopkins’ kick. Denver’s Montrell Washington was hit by his own teammate while trying to field L.A.’s second punt of OT, and the Chargers’ Deane Leonard was down there to fall on it.

Forget Your Projections

The Chargers possess one of the league’s more exciting offenses, and even with their considerable struggles so far this season, Denver has the pieces to be exciting on that side of the ball, too. But it was the defenses that stole the show Monday night, frustrating both offenses and leading to one of the lowest-scoring MNF games so far this season, even with the overtime.

After giving up a 10-for-10 passing start to Russell Wilson, the Chargers held the Denver QB to just 188 yards the rest of the game. The Chargers didn’t disguise its intent to go pass-heavy, with Herbert throwing the ball 57 times. Yet even as he completed 37 of those passes, Denver limited Herbert to a paltry 4.2-yard average on those completions, the fourth-lowest for a winning NFL quarterback in any game since 2000.

As all the known names on offense struggled, some lesser-known ones on defense made highlight plays that kept the game close throughout the final quarter. For Denver, that included Baron Browning, who built on a 1.5-sack performance in Week 5 with another sack and a key interception Monday night. His pick was the first forced turnover of the game, and came on the first play of a Chargers’ drive, leading to a Brandon McManus field goal. Teammate Damarri Mathis had his moment one drive earlier, forcing an incompletion on fourth down, which killed an 11-play L.A. drive without any points, in a tie game.

Much like Browning, the Chargers’ Drue Tranquill was not regarded as a sack artist entering the game (only 1.5 in his four-season career) but had third-down sacks on back-to-back Bronco drives in the fourth quarter. One forced a 47-yard field goal attempt, the other a punt.

Kitchen’s Still Closed

As Russell Wilson began the game 10-of-10, getting his Broncos out to a 10-point lead over the Chargers, it looked like Russ was cooking once again. There was even a highlight or two from the Broncos’ QB, who had struggled so far this season with just one 300-yard game and one game with multiple passing touchdowns (both losses) in his debut season as a Bronco.

But the L.A. defense shut Wilson down over the final three quarters and overtime, holding him to 5-of-18 passing the rest of the way. It was nearly a season-low in passing yards for Wilson, and with another loss next week against the Jets, he would match the longest losing streak of his NFL career, four games (set last season in Seattle).

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