The Chargers couldn’t hold a second-half lead against the undefeated Broncos and dropped a 34-23 decision to their division rivals on Monday Night Football. Despite giving up two touchdowns in the return game Monday night, the Chargers built a 23-17 third-quarter lead over the Broncos before two second-half touchdown passes by Kyle Orton allowed Denver to escape with a 34-23 victory in a key AFC West showdown. 

“I thought our guys came out and had a lot of energy and I thought we played awfully well early,” Head Coach Norv Turner said.  “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, what you’re playing, you give up two big returns for touchdowns like we did on the punt and kickoff, it makes it tough.” 

After both teams punted on their opening drives of the night, the Chargers used long passes of 18 and 20 yards to Malcom Floyd and a 25-yard reception by LaDainian Tomlinson to advance all the way to the Denver two yard line.  The drive stalled, however, and the Chargers were forced to settle for a 20-yard Nate Kaeding field goal.

But Denver answered immediately as the typically astute Chargers’ special teams gave up a 93-yard touchdown return to Eddie Royal on the ensuing kickoff to put the Broncos up 7-3.

The Chargers jumped back on top when Vincent Jackson caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Rivers late in the first quarter, but the lead was a short-lived one.  A short field goal by Matt Prater tied the game, and after a stop by the Broncos defense, Royal struck again with a 71-yard punt return that put Denver up 17-10.

“We’ve been awfully good in our special teams, not only this year but in the history of this football team over the last period,” Turner said.  “Guys take great pride in that.  We let one get away.” 

San Diego got a big special teams play of their own in the second quarter that helped the Chargers build their halftime lead.  After a 44-yard field goal by Kaeding, the defense forced a three-and-out in the final two minutes of the opening half and Darren Sproles returned a punt 46-yards for a touchdown to make it a 20-17 Bolts advantage. 

Coming into Monday night, the Broncos had allowed opponents to score just once in the second half, and that came in Week 1 against the Bengals.  The Chargers became the first to do so in five weeks when Kaeding’s 50-yard kick midway through the third quarter pushed the lead to 23-17. 

Kyle Orton’s night was very much typical of what he’s done early in the season.  He completed 20-of-29 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns, and his first scoring strike of the night, a 19-yard toss to Tony Scheffler, allowed the Broncos to regain the lead, 24-23, late in the third quarter. 

Rivers turned in another quality night as he passed for 274 yards and a touchdown, but Denver’s pressure defense got to him in the second half.  He was sacked four times in the final two quarters and lost a fumble on one late in the third quarter that ended a drive at midfield.  The Broncos cashed in on the turnover with a 29-yard field goal by Prater that made it a 27-23 game.

“Certainly a big part of it was their ability to pressure Philip when they had to,” Turner said.  “They made big plays.  They did a good job with the pass rush.  We didn’t do as well as we need to.”

The Chargers had an opportunity to regain the lead late in the fourth quarter after their defense forced a punt, but the offense stalled at the Denver 38 and the Broncos’ offense against capitalized.  A 52-yard catch and run by Scheffler set up a short touchdown pass from Orton to Brandon Stokely, and the five-yard score gave the visitors a 34-23 advantage with 2:55 remaining. 

Needing two scores to tie, the Chargers attempted a long field goal on their ensuing drive, but Kaeding’s 55-yard try missed wide left and Denver was able to kneel on the ball and preserve the victory. 

With the loss, the Chargers dropped to 2-3 on the season.  In just four days, they’ll travel to Kansas City for the second of three-consecutive AFC West contests, leaving them a quick turnaround to rebound from a tough defeat. 

“Our guys have been able to come back and that’s all we can be concerned about,” Turner said.  “We’ve got a short week and we’ve got to comeback and respond.”

Chargers place Applewhite on “Reserve - Injured,” sign CB Hughes

The Chargers placed linebacker Antwan Applewhite on “Reserve-Injured” Tuesday and signed former Colts cornerback Dante Hughes to take his place on the active roster. Applewhite, a second-year pro and former San Diego State Aztec, suffered a hamstring injury in the Chargers’ season opener at Oakland and hadn’t played since.  He attempted to practice last week but re-aggravated the injury.  He is expected to undergo surgery this week.

Hughes (5-10, 190) joined the Colts as a third-round draft pick in 2007 (95th overall) and spent two seasons in Indianapolis.  He appeared in 24 games as a reserve defensive back and special teams player.  Hughes was released at the conclusion of training camp this season. 

Prior to his time with the Colts, Hughes was an All-America performer at California-Berkeley where he recorded 15 interceptions in four seasons with the Bears.  A Los Angeles native, Hughes prepped at Crenshaw High School.

Source:Casey Pearce