The Broncos had the Chargers’ defense looking silly on Sunday afternoon.
Denver faced a third-and-1 at Los Angeles’ 10-yard line when it lined up in a T formation with quarterback Russell Wilson under center and running back Javonte Williams, fullback Michael Burton and tight end Chris Manhertz behind him.
Wilson got the Chargers to bite on a play-fake to Williams, then the nine-time Pro Bowler rolled to his left. As this was happening, tight end Adam Trautman ran undetected into the end zone, where he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to take a 24-7 lead with 3:11 left in the fourth quarter.
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A day after the Broncos’ seventh victory, head coach Sean Payton said there’s no better feeling than when a play works as intended. But it has to be the right situation.
“The challenge, honestly, as a play-caller, is you really have to be true to the situation,” Payton said. “If I’m guilty, or if any of us are guilty of something, it’d be like you’re wanting to open it too quickly, and it’s not ready. It has to be right.”
If the play seemed familiar, it’s because it was. Payton got the idea from the Jacksonville Jaguars after they ran the same play against the Chargers in last year’s AFC Wild Card game. The Jaguars were down by two points with 1:28 left in regulation when they lined up in a T formation at Los Angeles’ 41-yard line.
Instead of quarterback Trevor Lawrence passing the ball on fourth-and-1, he handed the ball off to running back Travis Etienne Jr., who cut to the outside for a 25-yard gain that helped set up the game-winning field goal.
“You’re rewinding it, you’re rewinding it, and all of a sudden you see something, and then you begin to tinker with it, and you put it in,” Payton said.
Payton hoped the Chargers would take the bait if they faked the handoff to Williams. However, Williams didn’t expect Trautman to catch the ball. Throughout the week, Williams said the team ran the play with the intent of Wilson running with the ball.
Even if Wilson didn’t throw in the end zone, he had enough room to convert the first down and possibly a touchdown.
“It worked, so I’m glad (Wilson threw it),” Williams said.
The Broncos’ 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive was one of their most impressive this season. It was methodical and textbook football. More importantly, it sucked the life out of the Chargers after they had just cut the deficit to 17-7.
On the first play, Williams rushed up the middle for a 20-yard gain — his second-longest run of the season. Williams had five carries for 34 yards during the drive. In addition to being effective in the run game, the Broncos were 4-for-4 on third down. Wilson connected with Trautman on two third-down plays, including the touchdown at the end.
By the time Denver reached Los Angeles’ 10, the Chargers were out of timeouts.
“That’s just complementary football,” inside linebacker Alex Singleton said.
• Broncos offensive lineman Luke Wattenberg stepped up and played 32 snaps at right guard after Quinn Meinerz went to a local hospital due to an elevated heart rate. Rookie linebacker Drew Sanders played 32 defensive snaps after edge rusher Nik Bonitto went down with a knee injury.
• Denver’s defensive backs are making an impact in the pass rush. P.J. Locke is the first Broncos safety in team history to record a sack in three consecutive games. He is the first NFL safety to accomplish the feat since the Dolphins’ Brandon Jones in 2021. Meanwhile, cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian is the first Broncos cornerback to record at least 0.5 sacks in back-to-back games since Ray Crockett in 1996. McMillian has even set the franchise’s single-season record for most tackles for loss by a defensive back with seven.