The Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers are only playing for pride and draft positioning Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., but that doesn’t mean the AFC West rivals don’t have anything to celebrate.
Both can boast of having a pair of Pro Bowl players. Linebacker Bradley Chubb and safety Justin Simmons were named to the squad from Denver, while defensive end Joey Bosa and wide receiver Keenan Allen represent the Chargers.
It’s a small consolation for teams that had hoped to be playing well into January. Instead they look to the future with their young quarterbacks showing the potential to become franchise mainstays.
For the Chargers (5-9), Justin Herbert stepped into the starting role in Week 2 after Tyrod Taylor was injured in the first week of the season. Herbert has been solid in his rookie season, throwing for 3,781 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushing for another four in 13 games.
Herbert has earned the respect of Broncos coach Vic Fangio.
“Very, very impressed with him — big arm, big body, fast, strong in the pocket, hard to get down, has really run their offense with a great command,” Fangio said Wednesday. “I think their offensive coaches have done a good job bringing him along. He’s been very, very impressive.”
Herbert is coming off one of his best games of the season. He passed for 314 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another in an overtime win over the Las Vegas Raiders. It was L.A.’s second successive victory after dropping eight of the previous 10.
Herbert beat the Raiders with Allen, his top receiver, limited with a hamstring injury. Allen didn’t practice Wednesday and could be a game-time decision Sunday.
Herbert’s opposite number, Drew Lock, hasn’t put up the same numbers but Denver (5-9) thinks it has found its quarterback after four seasons of searching. Lock has thrown just 14 TD passes and 2,330 yards in 11 games, but one of his best outings came against the Chargers on Nov. 1.
The Broncos rallied to erase a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, winning it on Lock’s touchdown pass to KJ Hamler as time expired. Two weeks ago, he had a stunning performance against Carolina, when he was 21-for-27, 280 yards and 4 TDs in a 32-27 triumph.
He struggled last week against Buffalo but hopes to bounce back to finish the season strong.
He’ll have to do it against a former teammate who also wants to finish out the year on a high note. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr., a key member of Denver’s defense that led the team to the Super Bowl 50 title, has battled injuries in his first year with the Chargers. In Week 3 he suffered a high ankle sprain, a low ankle sprain, a broken toe and a bruised foot, missing seven games.
He returned Nov. 29. By then L.A.’s playoff hopes were slim but the former All-Pro wanted to play.
“Most guys would have been done for the year,” Harris said this week. “I was motivated to try to do whatever I can to get back and help this team.”
The Broncos will get help with the return of kicker Brandon McManus, who was placed on the COVID-19 /reserve list for close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. His one-game replacement, Taylor Russolino, missed a field goal and two extra points.
–Field Level Media