Broncos 34 Chargers 23
SAN DIEGO — Eddie Royal became the first player in Broncos history to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game, leading undefeated Denver to a wild 34-23 win over the San Diego Chargers on Monday night.
The Broncos didn’t get an offensive touchdown until Kyle Orton threw a 19-yard pass to tight end Tony Scheffler late in the third quarter for a 24-23 lead. Denver added a field goal by Matt Prater and a late five-yard touchdown catch by Brandon Stokley that was upheld on review.
This is the fifth time the Broncos have been 6-0, the first since going 13-0 in 1998 en route to winning their second straight Super Bowl behind John Elway. They opened a 3 1/2-game lead in the AFC West over three-time defending division champion San Diego (2-3).
Denver outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil had two sacks to extend his NFL lead to 10. His second sack caused Philip Rivers to fumble, with Vonnie Holliday recovering to set up Prater’s 29-yard field goal. The Broncos sacked Rivers five times, three in the fourth quarter.
Royal is the 11th player in NFL history to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in a game. He had a 93-yard kickoff return and a 71-yard punt return.
“You’ve got to believe it can happen before you do it,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in the guys in front of me, so I wasn’t surprised.
“You want to kind of give a boost to the team on special teams. We were able to do that today.”
After the Chargers were forced to settle for a field goal following a sensational drive late in the first quarter, Royal took the kickoff at the seven-yard line, found a big hole at about the 35, cut inside of kicker Nate Kaeding at the 50 and raced down the left sideline to give the Broncos a 7-3 lead.
In the second quarter, Royal fielded Mike Scifres’ punt on the bounce at the 29, worked his way inside, then outraced the coverage to the outside to give Denver a 17-10 lead.
“Man, it was a great feeling. The guys did a great job of blocking,” he said of the second return. “I’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They opened up the seams and it was a home run.”
Royal’s electrifying returns at first silenced Qualcomm Stadium, then had Chargers fans booing.
Speedy little Darren Sproles of the Chargers got in on the action when he returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown for a 20-17 lead that held up at halftime. Sproles caught Brett Kern’s punt, ran up the left sideline, got a nice block at about the 50, cut inside and was gone.
Just over a minute earlier Kaeding kicked a 44-yard field goal.
On Nov. 11, 2007, Sproles returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in a 23-21 win against Indianapolis.
The Chargers ran 22 plays to only six for the Broncos in the first quarter, in what seemed more like fast-break basketball than football.
Rivers, in fact, was about to be dragged down by Dumervil when he threw a two-handed chest pass to LaDainian Tomlinson for a 21-yard gain on San Diego’s second drive.
It was one of four passes by Rivers for at least 13 yards on the drive, which started at the San Diego six-yard line.
The drive stalled, though, leading to some sideline drama involving Tomlinson.
Tomlinson wasn’t on the field on third-and-goal from the two-yard line, when Sproles was stuffed for no gain. Coach Norv Turner had a chagrined look on his face as the Chargers had to settle for Kaeding’s 20-yard field goal.
Tomlinson walked down the sideline toward the bench and flipped his helmet. When he and Turner spoke a few minutes later, L.T. didn’t appear to be looking at the coach.
Rivers threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson with six seconds left in the first quarter for a 10-7 lead.
The teams wore throwback uniforms, which meant a return of Denver’s striped socks. The road combo of white and brown looked like something out of Monty Python.