At the end, they lifted him up, the guy who could barely stand on his own.
The Chargers hoisted kicker Dustin Hopkins into the air after he ignored the pain and lifted his team to a 19-16 overtime victory over Denver at SoFi Stadium.
Playing with a hamstring he said he felt “pop” on a second-quarter extra point, Hopkins booted four field goals, including a 39-yarder nearly eight minutes into the extra session.
“Before every kick, you knew it was going to feel like someone was stabbing you with a knife,” Hopkins said. “It was like, ‘All right. Let’s do this.’ I was praying too. I was, ‘Lord, just be with me.’ The other part was, ‘Pain’s temporary.’ I was just committed to swinging and dealing with pain after.”
Hopkins’ other successful kicks came from 37, 31 and 35 yards as he provided much of the Chargers’ offense against a stout Broncos defense.
Justin Herbert failed to throw a touchdown pass while amassing 238 yards on 57 attempts (37 completions).
Hopkins’ winning kick was set up when rookie Ja’Sir Taylor caused a muffed punt that was recovered by fellow rookie Deane Leonard.
After Montrell Washington called for a fair catch, Taylor shoved blocker P.J. Locke into the return man, causing the ball to hit the turf. Leonard’s recovery gave the Chargers the ball at the Denver 28-yard line.
“Instead of just letting him catch it, I decided to make a play,” Taylor said. “It’s something we practice every day.”
Asked if he was surprised Locke didn’t give Washington more space, Taylor added: “He should have moved out of the way. Thank God he didn’t.”
After the muff, the Chargers gained nine yards on a Herbert pass to Mike Williams, setting up Hopkins, who willingly gave up his health — and perhaps the rest of his season — for his team.
“With no backup, I thought I’d be the best option,” Hopkins said. “‘Hey, it hurts already. You’re about to make it worse.’ We’ll just figure it out on the back end.”
A victory spurred by special teams was quite a departure for the Chargers, who have dealt with significant kicking-game issues in recent seasons.
They also won after their defense rebounded from a shaky start to dominate Denver and quarterback Russell Wilson. The Broncos’ final nine possessions produced only two field goals.
The Chargers built a more than 10-minute advantage in time of possession and ran 83 offensive plays to Denver’s 55.
Trailing 13-10 at halftime, the Chargers made it 13-13 with a field-goal drive — capped by Hopkins’ 31-yarder — on their first possession of the third quarter.
After falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter, the Chargers dominated the ball in the second as they pulled even 10-10.
They went 82 yards in 15 plays — converting three third downs along the way — to score their first touchdown on a six-yard run by Austin Ekeler. The running back received a boost across the goal line from center Will Clapp and right guard Zion Johnson.
The touchdown was the sixth in three games for Ekeler, who was scoreless over the first three weeks of the season.
The Chargers then tied the score with a 14-play, 69-yard march that ended with a 37-yard field goal by Hopkins.
That drive was aided by two pass interference calls on Denver cornerback Damarri Mathis. Those infractions netted the Chargers 47 yards.
After the Hopkins field goal, Denver took over at its own 25-yard line with 53 seconds remaining in the half.
Wilson moved the Broncos into field-goal position thanks largely to a 47-yard completion to KJ Hamler, who ran past cornerback J.C. Jackson for the long gain.
A 27-yard field goal by Brandon McManus put Denver up 13-10 at halftime.
Jackson, a 2021 Pro Bowl player who has struggled in his first season with the Chargers, also was called for a pass interference in the first quarter, a penalty that gave Denver 21 yards.
Jackson, who signed a five-year deal that guaranteed him $40 million and is worth up to $82.5 million in March, was replaced by Michael Davis to start the second half.
The Chargers’ defense has been hit frequently with big plays this season, a trend that continued throughout this game.
The defense gave up 76 yards on consecutive snaps as the Broncos produced their first touchdown late in the opening quarter.
Jerry Jeudy was able to break loose from Asante Samuel Jr.’s coverage when Wilson eluded pressure to extend the first play. Wilson then hit Jeudy, who raced for a 37-yard pickup after a missed tackle by Samuel.
On the next snap, the Chargers had a significant breakdown in coverage, allowing rookie tight end Greg Dulcich to run free for a 39-yard touchdown. Dulcich, a third-round pick out of UCLA, was making his NFL debut.
The Broncos scored the game’s first points on a 51-yard field goal by McManus midway through the opening quarter.
Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack was instrumental in stalling the Denver drive when he bullied through left tackle Calvin Anderson to sack Wilson for a four-yard loss.
The sack was Mack’s sixth of the season. He had six in seven games last year for Chicago before missing the reminder of the year because of a foot injury.
The Chargers played without Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley, who has been dealing with an illness since the end of last week. Clapp started in his place.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen also was unavailable as expected because of a hamstring injury. Allen, who has missed the past five games, appears to be on schedule to return Sunday when the Chargers play Seattle at SoFi Stadium.
Right tackle Trey Pipkins III started after being listed as questionable because of a knee injury suffered in the Chargers’ Week 5 victory at Cleveland.