DENVER — Philip Rivers doesn’t care that the Chargers must hit the road on wild-card weekend despite winning a dozen games, including a 23-9 nail-biter in Denver on Sunday in which he completed just 14 passes.
Nor does he mind facing the Baltimore Ravens, who thumped the Chargers 22-10 last weekend in Los Angeles.
The Chargers have won six straight on the road and went 7-1 away from home with their only road loss coming literally up the road to the Rams back in September.
For their first playoff appearance in five years, the Chargers will face a rejuvenated Ravens team that’s won six of seven under rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and features the league’s No. 1 defense.
“It’s a heck of a challenge,” Rivers said. “I don’t think there was a team that wasn’t going to be a heck of a challenge. … They’re all good. That team outplayed us last week and it will be a new game, new everything. We’ll see who can play the best this time.”
Were it not for a last-second loss to the Broncos at home in November, the Chargers would have supplanted the Chiefs as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and earned a first-round bye.
So, it turns out the Broncos (6-10) were the spoilers even though they lost again Sunday. That’s of no consolation to a franchise careening into another offseason of uncertainty after posting double-digit losses in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1966-67, an ignominy that could cost second-year coach Vance Joseph his job .
“I want to come back and make this thing right,” said Joseph, who’s expected to meet with general manager John Elway on Monday morning to learn if he’ll get that opportunity.
Joseph acknowledged an 11-21 record isn’t good enough by the Broncos’ standards, “but I think we’ve put a lot of work in. There’s a foundation that’s been laid here that should pay off in the future.”
That bedrock, said defensive end Derek Wolfe, is a never-quit attitude that was on display again Sunday.
“V.J., he’s one of my favorite people on this planet. I love that guy with all my heart and I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Wolfe said, adding that he’d hate to see the Broncos go in search of their fourth coach in six seasons.
Rivers was just 14 of 24 for 176 yards and a touchdown and he threw two interceptions in the first quarter, something that’s happened just twice before in Rivers’ 15-year NFL career.
“It’s not as good as we want to play, but again, I don’t see any pattern,” Rivers said of the offensive struggles in back-to-back games. “I really don’t buy into patterns or momentums in the games. It hasn’t been as good. I think you look at our collective body of work this year and it’s been good enough to win 12 games.”
And the Broncos were bad enough to lose 10.
They were done in mostly by their feeble offense that punted on its first drive for the ninth straight game and which managed a mere two touchdowns in its last 34 first-half drives, endangering offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave no matter who’s coaching the team in 2019.
Denver’s offense also accounted for nine points by the Chargers.
After Janovich’s first career TD pulled Denver to 14-9 with 10 minutes remaining, cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. stepped in front of rookie receiver Courtland Sutton and picked off the 2-point conversion attempt. He slipped Suttons’ tackle at the goal line and raced 102 yards to give the Chargers a 16-9 lead.
Then, Rivers had his only sustained drive, capped by Austin Ekeler‘s 1-yard TD run .
The Chargers took a 7-3 halftime lead thanks to a defensive touchdown .
Keenum hit Royce Freeman with a low screen that he didn’t secure. A hard hit by cornerback Desmond King II to a prone Freeman popped the ball loose, and linebacker Kyle Emmanuel scooped it up and ran 11 yards for a 7-0 lead the Chargers would never relinquish.
All for Naught
Rivers was intercepted twice in the first quarter for just the third time in his 15-year career. However, the Broncos failed to convert interceptions by rookie Isaac Yiadom and Will Parks into points.
Chargers: LB Jatavis Brown injured his right ankle tackling Freeman on the final play of the first quarter.
Chargers: Head to Baltimore for wild-card weekend.
Broncos: Embark on another offseason of change with big questions yet again at coach and QB.
Update on Coach Johnson
ENGLEWOOD, CO — Having just completed their first back-to-back losing seasons since the early 1970s, the Denver Broncos fired Vance Joseph on Monday, a day after the team finished 6-10.
Joseph told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that he has been fired.
“We just met, and (John Elway) is making a change,” Joseph told Anderson.
Joseph was on his way to the team facility Monday morning, where he met with team officials to discuss the future.
“I want to be the head coach of this team,” Joseph told Anderson earlier Monday. “I would like to get the third year. I think two years is just too short to judge a coach and a team.”
Joseph, who still has two years remaining on the four-year deal he signed in 2017, lasted just 32 games with the team. The Broncos now are on the hunt for the fourth head coach in John Elway’s tenure as the Broncos’ top football executive.
It was a bumpy ride for Joseph, who both played and coached at the University of Colorado before he began his NFL coaching career. The Broncos finished 5-11 in his first year and missed the playoffs this season. Joseph faced an almost constant wave of criticism for the team’s offense and its quarterback play.
It was the first time the Broncos have finished consecutive seasons with a losing record since 1971-1972. John Fox coached the first four seasons during Elway’s time as GM, Gary Kubiak handled two seasons before stepping down due to health concerns — including the Super Bowl 50 win — to go with Joseph’s two seasons.
When he was hired Joseph called the Broncos “a dream job” and said the Broncos “have an unbelievable winning tradition … but what make this even more special is it’s a place ready to win. This is not a rebuilding situation — it is a reboot.”
And with a nod to the future Joseph said on his first day on the job that “the standards around here won’t change — those are to win championships.”
Joseph’s teams did work hard and consistently had the public support of the Broncos’ highest-profile players like linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. This past season the Broncos pushed some of the league’s best teams to the limit with losses to the Kansas City Chiefs (twice), the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans by a combined 16 points.
The Broncos were in position to win at least three of those games before their own mistakes and decision-making did them in, including letting a 10-point fourth-quarter lead slip away against the Chiefs in Denver and missing a 51-yard field goal on the last play of the loss to the Texans.
Overall, the Broncos consistently struggled with penalties, usually at key moments in their games, as well as what Harris called “high school mess-ups” on the field. Joseph’s teams also simply did not win on the road with just four victories away from Denver in his two seasons. The Broncos also stumbled after quality starts in both years, having opened the 2017 season at 3-1 before an eight-game losing streak and they opened this past season at 2-0 before a four-game losing streak.
But Joseph also was the victim of the roster, at least sometimes, especially the continued search for a long-term answer at quarterback. The Broncos’ 2017 draft class, in particular, had almost no impact given five of the eight players drafted are no longer on the current roster and a sixth player — tight end Jake Butt — spent most of his second consecutive season on injured reserve because of knee injuries.
Left tackle Garett Bolles is the only current starter from the Class of ’17 and he has struggled mightily at times, especially with penalties, as he’s tried to learn on the job. Bolles had a league-leading 10 holding penalties in ’17 to go with seven holding penalties in the team’s first eight games this past season.
The miss on quarterback Paxton Lynch, a player Elway traded up in the first round to select in the 2016 draft, was a significant one. It also put the Broncos in a search for a quarterback that resulted in three different quarterbacks starting games in 2017 to go with Case Keenum‘s signing last March.
Lynch isn’t even a prospect for the team given he was released just before the start of the regular season and remained unsigned by any team in the league this past season. Lynch was unable to win the starting job in either the 2016 or 2017 training camps, nor was he able to offer enough optimism for the team to try him as the full-time starter and let him work through any issues.
Lynch lost the backup job to Chad Kelly this past summer, though Kelly was released in October after an arrest after a team Halloween party. It means none of the five quarterbacks the Broncos selected in the draft during Elway’s tenure is on the roster or practice squad.
The quarterback carousel swallowed up Joseph and has seen four different players start over the last 32 games. Elway also traded the team’s longest-tenured player in October when wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was shipped to the Texans. After the trade Thomas publicly questioned the team’s trustworthiness and the coaching staff’s willingness to listen to players.
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