ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It felt a bit like last year's regular-season opener against Carolina. Once again, the Denver Broncos had to hold on for dear life in the final moments with the outcome of the game resting on a last-second field-goal attempt.
This time, instead of the opposing kicker pushing it wide, the Broncos took care of matters themselves. Shelby Harris pushed through the Chargers' line, deflected Younghoe Koo's 44-yard attempt, and Denver escaped with a 24-21 season-opening win.
But it was only by that margin that the Broncos avoided going to overtime and potentially blowing a 17-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter for the first time in club history.
"That was sloppy and not who we want to be, but ultimately it is a win first against a really good opponent," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said.
Still, it never should have come to that -- and with two turnovers that led directly to 14 points that allowed the Chargers to climb back into the game, the rally was entirely of the Broncos' doing -- beginning with a squandered goal-to-go chance at the end of the third quarter that led them to settle for a field goal rather than a potentially back-breaking touchdown.
"Once we've got somebody down, we've got to put our foot on their throat and choke them out," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "We've got to kill 'em. That's what we've got to do. We've got to finish people, because we had them. We had them finished. But it's Philip Rivers. You can't even give him an inch, because he's going to take it."
Rivers pounced with the second chances provided by the Broncos' offense, which turned the ball over on consecutive series via an interception off Trevor Siemian and a Jamaal Charles fumble.
Until the fourth quarter, the Broncos dominated. A balanced offense that saw Charles and C.J. Anderson combine for 121 rushing yards and Siemian throw for 219 yards on 17-of-28 passing kept the Chargers off-balance. It wasn't spectacular, but it was steady, effective and gave the Broncos a comfortable margin.
Then, in a four-minute span of the fourth quarter, the Broncos nearly squandered it all, with two turnovers and two touchdowns surrendered. The Broncos hope it was a bullet dodged and a lesson learned -- and not a harbinger of what looms from a rigorous schedule that seems even more difficult after impressive Week 1 performances from future foes such as Dallas, Kansas City, Oakland and Philadelphia.
"We pulled it out," Joseph said. "Again, no apologies for winning. A win is a win in this league."