Dustin Hopkins is Chargers’ hero in overtime win vs. Broncos

They ended up picking him up, the guy who could barely stand on his own.

The Chargers hoisted kicker Dustin Hopkins after he ignored the pain, lifting his team to a 19-16 overtime win over Denver at SoFi Stadium.

Playing with a hamstring, Hopkins said he felt “pop” on an extra point in the second quarter. Hopkins started four field goals, including a 39-yarder, nearly eight minutes into the extra session.

“Before each kick, you knew it was going to feel like someone was stabbing you with a knife,” Hopkins said. “It was like, ‘Okay. Let us do this.’ I prayed too. I said, ‘Lord, just be with me.’ The other part was, ‘Pain is temporary.’ I was just determined to swing and deal with pain afterwards.

Hopkins’ other successful kicks came from 37, 31, and 35 yards as he provided much of the Chargers’ offense against a strong Broncos defense.

Justin Herbert failed to throw a touchdown pass while rushing for 238 yards on 57 attempts (37 completions).

Hopkin’s winning kick was set up when rookie Ja’Sir Taylor caused a muted punt that was recovered by fellow rookie Deane Leonard.

After Montrell Washington called for a fair catch, Taylor shoved blocker PJ Locke into the returnman, causing the ball to touch the turf. Leonard’s recovery gave the Chargers the ball at Denver’s 28-yard line.

“Rather than just let him catch, I decided to make a play,” Taylor said. “We practice that every day.”

When asked if he was surprised Locke didn’t give Washington more space, Taylor added, “He should have gotten out of the way. Thank God he didn’t.”

After the muff, the Chargers gained nine yards on a Herbert pass to Mike Williams and set up Hopkins, who willingly gave up his health — and perhaps the rest of his season — for his team.

“Without support, I thought I was the best option,” Hopkins said. “‘Hey, it hurts. You’re making it worse.” We’ll just find out at the back end.”

A win spurred by special teams was quite a departure for the Chargers, who have grappled with significant kicking issues in recent seasons.

The Chargers' Deane Leonard recovers a punt that was muted by the Broncos' Montrell Washington (12) in overtime.

The Chargers’ Deane Leonard (33) recovers a punt muted by the Broncos’ Montrell Washington (12) in overtime to score the winning goal.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

They also won after their defense recovered from a shaky start to dominate Denver and quarterback Russell Wilson. The Broncos’ last nine possessions produced only two field goals.

The Chargers built a more than 10-minute lead in possession and led 83 offensive games to Denver’s 55.

The Chargers were down 13:10 at halftime and with a field goal drive – topped by Hopkins’ 31-yarder – they made it 13:13 on their first possession of the third quarter.

After falling 10-0 in the first quarter, the Chargers dominated the ball in the second quarter when they even drew 10-10.

They rushed for 82 yards in 15 games while converting three third downs to get their first touchdown on a six-yard run by Austin Ekeler. The running back received a push across the goal line from center Will Clapp and right guard Zion Johnson.

The touchdown was the sixth in three games for Ekeler, who remained scoreless for the first three weeks of the season.

The Chargers then equalized with a 14-play 69-yard march that ended with a 37-yard field goal from Hopkins.

Injured Chargers kicker Dustin Hopkins, 6, grimaces after scoring a game-winning field goal in overtime.

Injured Chargers kicker Dustin Hopkins, 6, grimaces after scoring a game-winning field goal in overtime. Montrell Washington, who was muffing a punt to set up the kick, was late in his attempt to block the kick.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

That drive was aided by two pass interference calls on Denver cornerback Damarri Mathis. Those violations earned the Chargers 47 yards.

After Hopkins’ field goal, Denver took over at his own 25-yard line with 53 seconds remaining in the half.

Wilson put the Broncos in field goal position, thanks largely to a 47-yard completion from KJ Hamler, who ran past cornerback JC Jackson for the long win.

A 27-yard field goal by Brandon McManus put Denver up to 13:10 at halftime.

Jackson, a 2021 Pro Bowl player who struggled in his freshman season with the Chargers, was also called out for a pass interference in the first quarter, a penalty that gave Denver 21 yards.

Jackson, who signed a five-year deal in March guaranteed $40 million and worth up to $82.5 million, was replaced by Michael Davis early in the second half.

The Chargers’ defense has been hit with big plays frequently this season, a trend that continued throughout this game.

The defense gave up 76 yards on consecutive snaps as the Broncos scored their first touchdown late in the opening quarter.

Jerry Jeudy was able to break away from Asante Samuel Jr. coverage as Wilson evaded pressure to extend the first game. Wilson then beat Jeudy, who raced for a 37-yard pickup after a missed tackle by Samuel.

On the next snap, the Chargers had a significant break in cover, allowing rookie tight end Greg Dulcich to run clear for a 39-yard touchdown. Dulcich, a UCLA third-round pick, made his NFL debut.

The Broncos scored the first points of the game midway through the first quarter with a 51-yard field goal from McManus.

Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack was instrumental in stalling the drive in Denver when he bullied Calvin Anderson through left tackle to sack Wilson on a four-yard loss.

The Sack was Mack’s sixth season. He had six of seven games for Chicago last year before missing memory of the year with a foot injury.

The Chargers were without Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley, who has been battling an illness since late last week. Clapp started in his place.

As expected, wide receiver Keenan Allen was also absent with a hamstring injury. Allen, who missed the last five games, appears scheduled to return on Sunday when the Chargers play Seattle at SoFi Stadium.

Right tackle Trey Pipkins III started after being ruled questionable with a knee injury sustained in the Chargers’ Week 5 win in Cleveland.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-10-17/dustin-hopkins-chargers-denver-broncos-overtime-nfl-recap Dustin Hopkins is Chargers’ hero in overtime win vs. Broncos

Emma Bowman

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