DENVER – Shelby Harris got a hand on Younghoe Koo’s 44-yard field goal attempt with a second left, and the Broncos began the Vance Joseph era with a 24-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night.
Moments earlier, Koo had nailed the kick, but Joseph called a timeout to ice the kicker.
On the re-do, Harris – who made the team because of a rash of injuries along the D-line – sliced through and got his right hand on the kick.
It was reminiscent of last year’s opener, when the Broncos escaped with a 21-20 win over the Carolina Panthers when Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal with 4 seconds left.
Denver took a 24-7 lead into the fourth quarter but had two turnovers that were converted into touchdowns, a missed field goal and a punt.
Before those fourth-quarter foibles, Trevor Siemian threw two TD passes to Bennie Fowler and ran for another score.
The Broncos held Philip Rivers to 115 yards passing through three quarters but let him engineer a comeback when Siemian threw an interception and Jamaal Charles fumbled on plays that were upheld despite video evidence that had the crowd of 76,324 convinced they should have been overturned.
Safety Adrian Phillips intercepted a pass that went off cornerback Desmond King’s leg as King was tackling Fowler while the ball was still in the air. A review upheld the turnover and L.A. pulled to 24-14 on Keenan Allen’s 5-yard TD catch with eight minutes left.
Less than a minute later, Jamaal Charles fumbled – although replays showed his left elbow was down before the ball was ripped away by Korey Toomer. Cornerback Casey Hayward recovered. One play later, Rivers hit Travis Benjamin for a 38-yard touchdown that made it 24-21 and safety Darian Stewart hobbled off with a strained groin.
Back-to-back sacks of Siemian set up a 50-yard field goal try that McManus pushed wide right.
But Koo’s miss loomed larger in the final seconds.
The Broncos led 14-7 at halftime after Siemian threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Fowler and scored on a 1-yard keeper .
Los Angeles’ only touchdown drive was aided by a 40-yard pass interference call on cornerback Bradley Roby before Rivers hit running back Melvin Gordon for an 11-yard touchdown toss. Safety Justin Simmons hit Gordon at the 2, but he just somersaulted across the goal line.
Rivers stayed away from the All-Pro tandem of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., instead targeting Roby and safeties Darian Stewart and Simmons, both of whom held up well.
Roby atoned for his crucial penalty with an interception in the third quarter on a pass intended for Keenan Allen. That led to Siemian’s 6-yard TD toss to Fowler that made it 21-7.
Brandon McManus kicked a 20-yard field goal on the last play of the third quarter, capping a 78-yard drive that ate up 8 minutes, 16 seconds.
The game presented landmarks on the football field , along the sidelines and in the broadcast booth .
Not since 1960 had the Chargers represented L.A., where they played their inaugural season before bolting to San Diego.
Beth Mowins became the first woman to call an NFL regular season game since NBC’s Gayle Sierens in 1987 when she handled play-by-play on the doubleheader nightcap alongside Rex Ryan, who made his debut as an ESPN analyst.
With Anthony Lynn also making his head coaching debut, this marked the first time two black head coaches worked their first NFL game against each other in the same game.
Lynn burned one of his timeouts with a curious throw of his red flag to challenge a rather inconsequential incompletion in the first quarter.
MCMANUS’S MILLIONS : McManus was the last restricted free agent to sign his tender this summer, waiting until June 15 to put his signature on a one-year, $2.75 million deal after making $600,000 last season. He did it in hopes of getting a long-term deal, which he finally got Monday just hours before kickoff when he agreed to a three-year extension worth $11.25 million.
A first-time team captain, McManus approached coach Joseph before the final preseason game and talked him into allowing the special teams players to participate in pregame introductions: “First time at any level, high school, college or NFL,” explained McManus. “It’s a huge dream of mine to come out to 70,000 fans cheering.”
BEEFY BRONCOS : The Broncos beefed up their depleted defensive line before kickoff by promoting rookie nose tackle Tyrique “Pot Roast Jr.” Jarrett to their active roster and waiving Kyle Peko.
The undrafted pro from the University of Pittsburgh is generously listed as packing 335 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. His teammates gave him his nickname because he reminds them of former Broncos run-stuffer Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton.
INJURY UPDATES: Chargers backup SS Rayshawn Jenkins left in the second half with a concussion. So did Broncos starting right guard Ronald Leary, who was replaced by second-year pro Connor McGovern. Leary will be in concussion protocol during the week as the Broncos prepare to face his former team, the Dallas Cowboys. Broncos rookie CB Brandon Langley left in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.
UP NEXT: The Chargers host the Miami Dolphins, whose opener was scrubbed by Hurricane Irma. The Broncos are home again to take on the Cowboys.
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