If Justin Herbert is the AFC’s new Superman, then Vic Fangio must be the kid’s personal Kryptonite.
“They do a great job disguising everything,” Herbert said of the Broncos after he fell to 0-2 lifetime as a pro at Empower Field at Mile High following Sunday’s 28-13 loss. “And they’re really well-coached.
“And when you put together a really good coach like that with some pretty exceptional players, you get a really good defense.”
That Fangio defense got the upper hand on the second-year quarterback and former Oregon star once again, picking Herbert off twice and sacking him three times.
Of Herbert’s 26 NFL starts, the quarterback has played in only five in which he’s thrown multiple interceptions. Among those five, two have come against Fangio and the Broncos.
Herbert slipped to 1-2 against Denver over the last two seasons and has seen his Chargers offense score only 19 and 13 points over its last two head-to-head meetings with the Broncos.
Sunday’s loss was only the third over Herbert’s last 15 starts in which Los Angeles scored 13 or fewer points.
“We can’t expect to win if you turn the ball over like that,” said Herbert, who finished with 303 yards through the air. “But (it gave us) a lot of good film to watch and you have to learn from it.”
Both of the Broncos’ picks came in the fourth quarter to help blow open a game that saw Denver leading 14-7 through the first three stanzas.
The first was off a Herbert misfire on third-and-14 at the Denver 23 when the quarterback appeared to short-arm a toss to tight end Jared Cook in the right corner of the end zone. Rookie Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II stepped in front of Cook and snatched the throw to squelch the Los Angeles threat.
The hosts responded by taking the ensuing possession 80 yards on 10 plays and capping it off with a 1-yard touchdown toss from Teddy Bridgewater to tight end Eric Saubert for a 20-7 Denver lead.
“He felt like he had Jared in the back corner, he’s trying to make a play, trying to be aggressive,” said Chargers coach Brandon Staley, a former Fangio protégé who was the Broncos’ outside linebackers coach in 2019. “(And) their corner made a great play on it.”
Surtain vexed Herbert and the Chargers a second time with 7:40 to go in the tilt, again with Los Angeles driving into Broncos territory. On first-and-10 at the Denver 37, Herbert threw a dump-off pass to tailback Austin Ekeler, the former Eaton High and Western Colorado standout, a few yards past the line of scrimmage.
Only the toss came out slightly behind Herbert’s target, forcing the normally sure-handed Ekeler to go back on the ball — only to have it bounce off his hands like a wet bar of soap. Surtain II saw the rock hanging in the air, swooped in and cradled it near the left boundary, then zipped all the way to the end zone for a 70-yard, game-clinching pick-6.
“I thought, overall, we just got outplayed,” said Ekeler, who finished with 68 receiving yards and another 31 on the ground. “It’s about execution. We left too much out on the field, penalties that were big, sloppy plays …
“I talk about it all day, every interview: If you’re not consistent in your play, you’re going to get beat. I feel like that pretty much happened (Sunday). They outplayed us, they played more consistent and stopped us and made more plays on offense than we did.”
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