Trevor Siemian, Broncos' defense do just enough to get opening win

DENVER — Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian was efficient in answering questions people had about him heading into opening night. Denver’s running game delivered. And the defense made a critical final stand as Shelby Harris blocked a 41-yard field goal attempt with one second remaining to hold off a furious comeback by the Los Angeles Chargers.

All in all, it was a lot more difficult than Vance Joseph might have wanted in his head-coaching debut, but the Broncos still escaped with a 24-21 victory on Monday night.

“Me and [Derek] Wolfe, we got big push back. And I just stuck my hand up and I felt three fingers on the ball,” Harris said of his fellow defensive end and the blocked kick. “I turned my head around as I was being tackled, and he missed it. Just big. Happy to be a part of it.”

But the contest was a far bigger headache than what might have been expected, starting as the third quarter drew to a close. To that point, Siemian had showed composure in recording three touchdowns and helping the Broncos take a 24-7 lead. Denver also had flaunted a power run game, and its defense was dominant, holding the Chargers to 115 yards.

But the Chargers were able to wrestle some momentum away, getting help on a wild interception in the fourth quarter. Siemian had a pass bounce off Chargers safety Desmond King’s shoe and into the hands of teammate Adrian Phillips. Six plays later, the Chargers parlayed the turnover into a Philip Rivers-to-Keenan Allen 5-yard touchdown pass.

On the next possession, Broncos running back Jamaal Charles fumbled as he tried to power to a first down. Rivers needed just one play to turn that into a 38-yard touchdown on a pass to Travis Benjamin, closing the Chargers’ gap to 24-21.

All of that was made a moot point of sorts when Harris, who made the roster after recording a team-high three sacks in the preseason, blocked Youghoe Koo‘s kick.

It all will be live-and-learn stuff moving forward, as there also were some real concerns in a revamped offensive line late in the game as the Broncos were almost unable to close the deal.

“It was a little bit too exciting,” Denver linebacker Von Miller said, “but a win is a win.”

Siemian’s work proved to be just enough. He led a 15-play scoring drive on the Broncos’ second possession of the game, finishing it with a 5-yard scoring pass to Bennie Fowler. He closed out the Broncos’ fourth possession of the game with a 1-yard scoring jaunt around Chargers star defensive end Joey Bosa. And by the time the third quarter was over, Siemian had three touchdowns, and the Broncos had built their 17-point lead.

This is all worth noting even after the closest of shaves — and reminiscent of last season’s 21-20 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the 2016 opener, when the Panthers missed a kick to end the game — because the Broncos believe Siemian is just the guy to run an offense that could be a little burlier this season, especially in the run game. The Broncos finished 27th in the NFL in rushing last season, but they recorded 140 yards rushing on Monday. And then there’s the Broncos’ defense, a unit that powered a Super Bowl run two seasons ago and a group that has openly wondered why so few people believe it can show that kind of teeth again.

The defense demonstrated just that on Monday, limiting the Chargers to 140 yards of offense at just over four minutes into the fourth quarter, a fact punctuated by linebacker Todd Davis’ throwdown on Melvin Gordon to stop Los Angeles on a fourth-down play.

But perhaps more importantly, the Broncos held Rivers to 192 passing yards.

“You hold a team with a quarterback like that to under 200 yards passing, you’re going to win some games,” Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said.

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