Finally, the Chargers hung onto a fourth-quarter lead. The snake-bitten Chargers, who entered Thursday night's game against the Broncos having choked their way to a 1-4 record, built an early lead on the arm of Philip Rivers and did enough defensively to hold onto an uncomfortable 21-13 win that should've felt completely comfortable.
But this is the Chargers we're talking about.
They held a 21-3 lead in the fourth quarter. That lead shrank to eight points with 32 seconds left, but the Broncos had to kickoff with no timeouts remaining. Their onside kick landed in the arms of the Chargers, but Chargers coach Mike McCoy had called a timeout, which negated the play. The Broncos' next onside kick was recovered by ... you guessed right: The Broncos.
Fortunately, for McCoy's sake, the Broncos' last-gasp drive ended with a failed Hail Mary.
So you wanna be an NFL head coach? pic.twitter.com/21PDSM6cN7— Dan Hanzus (@DanHanzus) October 14, 2016
With the win, the Chargers improved to 2-4 while the Broncos dropped their second consecutive game, lowering their record to 4-2. McCoy, who was reportedly coaching for his job, likely did enough to hang on for a while longer. Meanwhile, Broncos interim coach Joe DeCamillis, who was coaching for Gary Kubiak, didn't do much to bolster his chances to land a head coaching gig in the offseason.
Rivers came out sniping. On the game's opening drive, he went seven of nine for 85 yards. He overcame an offensive pass interference penalty, which wiped out a big gain, leading the Chargers on a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
DEN has allowed 31 pts on their opponent's 1st drive of the game in 2016 (most in NFL)— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 14, 2016
DEN allowed 24 pts on opening drives in all of 2015
He capped that series with a perfectly placed throw to tight end Hunter Henry in the end zone.
Unlike Denver's defense, San Diego's defense forced a quick stop and, again, Rivers went to work. This time, he led the offense on an 18-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a field goal. At that point in the game, the Chargers had run 30 plays. The Broncos had run five.
Despite the Chargers' early domination, they finally began looking like the bottom-dwellers they are in the second quarter. After forcing a second consecutive Broncos punt, Chargers returner Travis Benjamin inexplicably handed the Broncos possession of the football in the red zone when he failed to move out of the way of the punt.
The officials initially ruled that the ball didn't touch Benjamin, but they reversed the call after a challenge.
That right there is why the Chargers went 1-4 in their first five games and not 5-0.
The Chargers did at least limit the Broncos to a field goal. At halftime, they held a 10-3 advantage. While Rivers couldn't miss, Trevor Siemian couldn't hit anyone.
The Chargers tacked on a field goal at the beginning of the third quarter to take a two-score lead. They added another after Broncos receiver Jordan Taylor coughed up the football on his half of the field. Minutes later, they kicked yet another -- their third field goal of the third quarter -- and headed into the fourth quarter with a 16-point lead.
A Broncos' holding penalty in the end zone with roughly 12 minutes remaining in the game sealed their fate. Not even the Chargers could blow a 21-3 lead in 12 minutes. Though they suffered from more Chargers moments (a muffed return immediately after the safety and falling victim to an onside kick), the Chargers hung on for a 21-13 win.
Here are six more things to know from Thursday's game:
1. A historic night for Philip Rivers
After that hot start, Rivers fizzled. He ended up going 18 of 29 for 178 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 90.9.
Still, he passed Dan Fouts for the most passing yards in Chargers history.
The key to the game plan was using quick, shorter passes against a Broncos defensive front that knows how to get after the quarterback. Though Rivers cooled off considerably in the second half, he played turnover-free football, which was enough to leave the field as a winner.
2. The Broncos still have offensive issues
The Broncos lost their first game of the season last week when they were forced to send out rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch to replace an injured Siemian. They regained their starter Thursday, but they didn't regain their mojo.
The Broncos' three first-half points came after a four-play, zero-yard drive. They didn't score a touchdown until the 8:08 mark of the fourth quarter. At one point, this was true:
The Broncos have more penalties (10) than first downs (9).— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) October 14, 2016
Siemian was not good. He went 30 of 50 for 230 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating? 77.9.
Trevor Simian's pump fakes need a lot of work pic.twitter.com/o2jjx0hnTj— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) October 14, 2016
Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas combined for 75 yards. Thomas' costly fumble in the final minutes, with the Broncos trying to mount a late rally, appeared to end the game. The Broncos ended up getting more chances even after that fumble when the Chargers started playing like, well, the Chargers.
The point being, don't blame the Broncos defense for this loss. After a rough start to the game, in which they allowed consecutive 75-yard drives, they limited the Chargers to field goals down the stretch.
3. Hunter Henry is the real deal
The Chargers appear to have hit a home run on tight end Hunter Henry.
Their second-round pick in this year's draft caught Rivers' first touchdown, which marked his third straight game with a touchdown. Henry wound up with six receptions for 83 yards and that one touchdown.
He led the team in all three of those categories, by the way.
Really, Henry turning into a key player shouldn't come as a surprise. He's playing alongside all-time great Antonio Gates and catching passes from Rivers, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.
4. Joey Bosa also looks good
No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa left the the defense's first series with an apparent hand injury. He eventually returned to stop a Broncos' drive in the second quarter with what won't go down as a sack, but was still a quality play.
The Chargers top two draft picks appear to have been wise selections.
5. Heartbreak for C.J. Anderson Fantasy owners
The Broncos thought they cut the Chargers' fourth-quarter lead to a single score when C.J. Anderson turned a pass that looked like it was going nowhere into a touchdown.
The touchdown was called back due to a penalty, which happened multiple times on positive Anderson plays.
6. What's next?
The Broncos get an extra long week with their next game coming on Week 7 of "Monday Night Football." They'll host the Texans.
The Chargers travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons two Sundays from now.