DENVER — Everything began rolling downhill after the drop.
Five minutes into the Los Angeles Chargers’ first NFL season, Casey Hayward was poised to score. The 5-foot-11 cornerback had gotten his hands on the ball, jumping a pass intended for Broncos running back C.J. Anderson. There was nothing in front of him except green grass.
This was not exactly a surprise. A year ago, Hayward led the league with seven interceptions, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. On Monday night, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, it simply looked like more of the same.
But this time, Hayward couldn’t hang on. He bobbled the ball away, giving third-year quarterback Trevor Siemian a second chance. Twelve plays later, the former seventh-round pick out of Northwestern found the end zone, zipping a five-yard pass to Bennie Logan III.
The Broncos never trailed again. Before a raucous home crowd of 74,892, they won 24-21 — downing a talented but inconsistent visiting team that could never quite close the gap.
The Chargers capitalized on two Denver turnovers to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. Rookie kicker Younghoe Koo drilled what looked like a tying 44-yard field goal, but the Broncos called a timeout just before the snap.
Koo’s second chance was partially blocked by the Broncos’ Shelby Harris and fell far short to clinch the Denver win.
After falling behind 7-0, the Chargers tied the game five seconds into the second quarter, as running back Melvin Gordon bounced over a defender on the end of an 11-yard catch and run.
Then, they went scoreless for nearly 37 minutes. The Chargers’ next five drives netted a combined 79 yards, ending with a punt, a punt, an interception, another punt, and a turnover on downs.
Meanwhile, the Chargers’ defense made Siemian look like a potential Pro Bowler. At the end of three quarters, the 25-year-old had completed 16 of 25 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown — good for a passer rating of 111.3.
He also ran into the end zone for the first time in his young career, juking out Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa along the way.
By comparison, six-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers was treading water at 61.6. He had thrown for just 60 yards, with a touchdown to go with an interception.
There were signs of life, of course. They may be in Los Angeles now, but this is still the team that went 1-8 in one-score games last fall. With Rivers guiding the offense, there’s…