INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos put themselves back in the AFC playoff race Sunday with a 24-7 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, whose season continues to go further off the rails after quarterback Justin Herbert broke a finger in the first half.
Wilson completed 21 of 33 passes for 224 yards for two touchdowns, including a 46-yard TD to Courtland Sutton in the third quarter.
Denver has won six of seven, and the Broncos are one of six teams in the AFC at 7-6 and fighting for one of the last two playoff spots. They are on the outside due to a 4-5 conference record, but three of their final four games are against AFC opponents.
"We’re in a horse race. We’re three quarters the way through and we have to finish last quarter strong," Wilson said after the Broncos snapped an 11-game road losing streak against AFC West foes.
Herbert has a fracture in his right index finger. Coach Brandon Staley said the Chargers will do more tests before determining how long Herbert will be out. It is a short week for the 5-8 Bolts, who have dropped four of five and are at Las Vegas on Thursday night.
Courtland Sutton of the Denver Broncos catches a pass for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on December 10, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
It is the second broken finger for Herbert this season. He fractured the middle finger of his left non-throwing hand during the second half against Las Vegas on Oct. 1.
Herbert was 9 of 17 for 96 yards with an interception before being injured, apparently while he was taken down awkwardly by Denver’s Zach Allen after throwing a pass. He tried to grip the ball on the sideline after that drive but wasn’t able to do it properly.
"I can’t remember whether it got hit on a helmet or whether it hit on someone’s shoulder pads. I just remember coming up and it wasn’t feeling right," said Herbert, who was wearing a splint on the finger after the game.
Herbert had been sacked four times and hit six times during the Chargers’ first six possessions, with his teammates repeatedly missing their blocks against Denver’s pass rushers.
The Broncos defense finished with six sacks and a pair of turnovers. They also held the Chargers to a combined 1 of 18 on third- and fourth-down conversions.
"We did a good job harassing the quarterback, both of them. It was one of our better team wins this season," Denver coach Sean Payton said.
Easton Stick completed 13 of 24 passes for 179 yards in Herbert’s place. He had played two NFL snaps in five seasons with Los Angeles before replacing the Bolts’ franchise quarterback with 1:52 remaining in the second quarter. His best throw was a 57-yard strike to Quentin Johnston during the fourth quarter. Four plays later, Austin Ekeler put Los Angeles on the board with a 4-yard TD.
Javonte Williams and Adam Trautman also scored for the Broncos.
Denver had a 10-0 halftime lead and extended it with less than six minutes remaining in the third quarter on Wilson’s connection to Sutton. On first-and-10 from the Chargers 46, Wilson had plenty of time before stepping up in the pocket and throwing a deep pass. Sutton made a one-handed catch near the back of the end zone while being covered by Michael Davis.
"I think I had about 35 seconds back there," said Wilson, slightly embellishing the clean pocket he had. "I went left, went right, went through my reads and then back to Courtland."
It was Sutton’s 10th receiving TD of the year, making him the first Denver receiver since Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas to reach double digits.
Fabian Moreau of the Denver Broncos tackles Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers during the third quarter at SoFi Stadium on December 10, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Keenan Allen became the fastest receiver in NFL history to reach 900 catches with six receptions for 68 yards. Allen, who was drafted in the third round by the Chargers in 2013, reached the milestone in 139 games, four games faster than Antonio Brown.
Allen has 904 receptions in his 11-year career. He leads the league with 108 catches this season but was disappointed over the game’s result.
"Obviously frustrated. The season didn’t go how you wanted it to. Still got, what, four games left? So we’ll keep at it," he said.
Denver took a 7-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the first quarter on Williams’ 3-yard run up the middle. The touchdown was set up when linebacker Jonathon Cooper picked off Herbert at the LA 7 after Herbert’s passes was batted at the line of scrimmage by Baron Browning.
The Chargers also had a red zone interception earlier in the first quarter but could not convert it into points. Davis made a diving pick on a pass intended for Marvin Mims Jr. at the Denver 13.
Los Angeles had fourth-and-3 at the Denver 6, but Gerald Everett couldn’t catch Herbert’s pass in the end zone.
The Broncos play the Lions in Detroit Saturday night, while the Chargers face the Raiders in Vegas on Thursday.
ESPN reported Herbert is expected to miss Thursday's matchup.