CARSON, Calif. • And the crowd went wild.
At least, 67.3 percent of the fanatics in the comfy-cozy suburban soccer stadium did.
The Broncos gave their stalwarts something Sunday to get absolutely excited about – a last-second victory, at last.
The distinctive accomplishment, led by the Broncos’ old pros and All-Pros Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller, was the most meaningful outside of Denver since Super Bowl 50.
The Broncos beat the Chargers, a fierce division rival and winners of six straight this season, 23-22 before a predominantly Orange assembly of 25,462.
Everyone will remember the field goal by Brandon McManus, who had missed a kick at the end in the Broncos’ loss to the Texans. Nobody will forget the Broncos getting their final possession at the 8-yard line with 1:51 remaining. It must be recalled that Case Keenum was on the mark for four consecutive passes, although the fourth was brought back because of an offensive pass interference call on Tim Patrick.
The Broncos were stomping mad.
Yet, Keenum remained calm and completed a tight pass to tight end Matt LaCosse for nine yards, then threw for 30 yards to Courtland Sutton, the heir apparent to Demaryius Thomas, to the Chargers 16. With precious time disappearing, Case clocked the ball with four seconds showing.
McManus actually made the 34-yard field goal twice – the second after one of those silly timeouts.
The Broncos, frustrated so often in a sad-sack season, erupted on the field, and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. sprinted to the other end zone to join the Broncophiles’ celebration.
Harris and Miller were pivotal with interceptions thrown by Broncos nemesis Philip Rivers.
Both were particularly pleased because “we have been playing in games like this a lot this season, and we kept saying we have to make some plays, and we did it,” Miller said.
Although Vance Joseph wanted his Broncos to get off to a fast start, they looked out of sorts early.
But the special teams sprung a perfectly executed fake punt pass for a first down.
Then, Phillip Lindsay dashed 41 yards for a touchdown that had the Broncos ahead 7-6.
Rivers was trying to rally his Chargers when Harris pulled off the pick off.
Harris said afterward that Rivers “was screaming at me from the beginning. He wouldn’t let up.
“I was appalled.”
“That’s a good word,” I told him.
“It’s true. I was appalled. The defensive linemen and linebackers couldn’t believe Rivers was yelling at me like that.”
Even before the interception.
However Rivers, notorious for his garbage gag, started on the cornerback when he was an undrafted free agent rookie. “Yeah, one time he told me to go back to Arkansas, and I told him I was from Oklahoma.”
At halftime, as both teams ran off the field in the same tunnel, Rivers “said I made a great break on the (interception),” according to Harris.
“Can you believe he was giving me a compliment? I probably have the most interceptions against him.”
On third down, Rivers obviously thought he had Ty Williams open at the sideline, but Harris materialized.
It was Miller Time in the fourth quarter. It was necessary time.
The Broncos trailed 19-7, and Rivers had driven the Chargers to the Broncos’ 35. A touchdown there, and the game would be over before it was over.
But, again on third down, Rivers tried a screen pass. Von describes:
“My assignment on the play was to cover the running back out in the flat. But he didn’t come out of the backfield. I knew they had three wide receivers out to that side, so I just stood there.
“He threw it right at me.”
Miller took off in the opposite direction, with the intention of “taking it to the house” and bringing the Broncos within five points.
“Then I felt a hand reach around me, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose it.”
Still, Von made it to the San Diego 18. Three running plays later, Royce Freeman swept in for a touchdown.
And, eventually, as Sherlock Holmes would say, the game was afoot.
The soccer stadium rocked as if this were a World Cup match. It did seem like an NFL playoff atmosphere.
And the Broncos and their backers went bonkers.