Chargers win third straight as Herbert sets rookie TD mark

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Austin Ekeler

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) scores a touchdown against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — For all the impressive milestones Justin Herbert had piled up early in the season, they weren’t resulting in wins for the Los Angeles Chargers. Now, they are.

Herbert has led the Chargers on winning drives in three straight games while continuing to rewrite the rookie quarterback record book.

Herbert set the mark for most rookie touchdown passes in a season in the Chargers’ 19-16 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday. His decisive drives have come either in the last two minutes or in overtime.

“There’s a way to do it and a way not to do it. We experienced that the first half of the season but we got better from it,” said Herbert, who was 21 of 33 passes for 253 yards. “That’s one of the best things to see. You have to be tough. It’s about how you react.”

After Brandon McManus tied it at 16 with 2:47 remaining with a 52-yard field goal, the Chargers (6-9) took over at their 25 and were in the red zone in three plays. Austin Ekeler had 34 of his 45 rushing yards on two carries and Herbert connected with Jalen Guyton for a 23-yard reception to the Denver 41 at the two-minute warning.

Four plays later, Michael Badgley split the uprights from 37 yards with 41 seconds remaining for the winning points and Los Angeles’ first three-game winning streak in two years.

Herbert’s 9-yard screen pass to Ekeler in the second quarter was his 28th touchdown throw of the season, surpassing the 27 that Baker Mayfield had for Cleveland in 2018.

“I am glad we have the young man. He works his tail off. I give him all the credit in the world,” coach Anthony Lynn said.

Herbert, the sixth overall pick in the April draft and third QB taken, also became the fourth player to throw for over 4,000 yards as a rookie, joining Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.

He also needs six completions to surpass the 379 that Carson Wentz had for Philadelphia in 2016.

“You are so busy doing the extra things that you really don’t have time to realize some of the special things we have done on offense this season,” Herbert said.

Denver (5-10) trailed 16-3 early in the fourth quarter but tied it with scores on three straight possessions.

McManus was good from 50 yards to bring the Broncos within 10. After the Chargers went three-and-out, Drew Lock scored on a 1-yard keeper for Denver’s first rushing touchdown in seven games.

And after Badgley’s late field goal, the Broncos got to midfield. But Lock’s desperation pass on the final play was intercepted by Mike Williams near the goal line.

Lock completed 24 of 47 passes for 264 yards. Melvin Gordon, who spent five seasons with the Chargers before signing with Denver in the offseason, had 79 yards rushing on 16 carries.

BADGLEY BOUNCES BACK

Badgley had made only three of his last seven field goals, but was perfect on all four attempts Sunday.

Badgley hit from 37 yards to cap the opening drive. Nasir Adderley put Los Angeles in great field position by returning the opening kickoff 53 yards. Badgley also connected from 43 yards late in the second quarter to extend LA’s lead to 13-0 at halftime. He added a 25-yarder 10 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it 16-3.

“Typical Mike. He bounced back. He’s a tough young man,” Lynn said. “We were expecting him to bounce back and he did.”

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Denver had opportunities to score on its first two drives but came away empty. The Broncos took nearly eight minutes on their first possession and drove to the Chargers 16 before Lock was intercepted by Casey Hayward Jr. in the end zone. The ball deflected off the hands of Denver receiver DaeSean Hamilton.

McManus then had a 37-yard field goal attempt bounce off the left upright, his first miss inside 40 yards since 2017.

“You know, that’s six points right there, at least. We got to come up with points when you get into the other team’s territory, and obviously we didn’t do a good job of that today,” Denver coach Vic Fangio said.

KEY INJURIES

Broncos: WR K.J. Hamler sustained a concussion during the first quarter and did not return. The wife of DE Shelby Harris went into labor before the game. He remained to play but the organization arranged an early flight to get him home before the rest of the team.

Chargers: S Rayshawn Jenkins (ankle) and OT Bryan Bulaga (foot) were both injured in the first half and did not return. CB Casey Hayward (hamstring) didn’t play during the second half. LB Kenneth Murray was evaluated for a concussion during the first quarter but ended up returning. Keenan Allen (hamstring) was inactive for the first time since 2016 after trying to go through warmups. The Pro Bowl wide receiver came into the week second in the AFC with 100 receptions.

UP NEXT

Broncos: host Las Vegas next Sunday.

Chargers: travel to Kansas City next Sunday.

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