A Broncos team that came out flat against a lesser opponent last week in a “Sunday Night Football” matchup with the New York Giants again struggled early this week. Denver’s first two possessions at StubHub Center in Concord, Calif. went fumble, punt return for a Los Angeles Chargers touchdown. It didn’t get much better from there.

When the whistle blew on halftime, Denver trailed 14-0 and had crossed midfield just once on eight possessions.

Brendan Langley, fielding kickoff returns in the place of the injured Cody Latimer, gave Denver a long field to cover when he took the ball from the end zone only out to the nine-yard line.

On third-and-four after a pair of C.J. Anderson rushes, Trevor Siemian under heavy pressure connected with tight end A.J. Derby 24-yards downfield, but Derby fumbled it away at the 45-yard line to give Philip Rivers great field position on his first possession.

Tight end Hunter Henry took L.A.’s first play from scrimmage, a screen in the flat, 34 yards to the Denver 11-yard line. Darian Stewart committed a pass interference penalty in the end zone two plays later, giving Los Angeles the ball at the one with a fresh set of downs. The Denver run defense that has been so good through the early part of the season stuffed Melvin Gordon on four straight attempts and the Chargers came up empty on their first drive.

Backed up against their own goal line after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (half the distance to the goal) following the stop, Siemian scrambled for a first down on third-and-seven to give them a little breathing room. Jamaal Charles set up a third-and-one with a short catch up the middle, but was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage on the next play, forcing Denver to punt.

Riley Dixon one-hopped a 46-yard punt to Travis Benjamin, who had a huge seam up the middle of the field and took the kick 65 yards nearly untouched for a touchdown and an early Chargers lead.

Derby continued to haunt Denver on the next possession, taking a false start penalty on third down on the ensuing drive and the Broncos were forced to punt again after Siemian was forced to throw the ball away under pressure. A better kick from Dixon forced a fair catch and L.A. took over at their own 36.

Denver forced their first three-and-out of the game on the ensuing drive thanks largely to Von Miller‘s sixth sack of the season. The six-yard takedown of Rivers also moved Miller into solo second place on the Broncos’ all-time sacks list past Karl Mecklenburg. Hunter Sharp, an undrafted free agent who joined the team in December 2016, was activated off the practice squad for his first NFL game Sunday and returned Drew Kaser‘s punt 11 yards for his first NFL touch.

A Chargers neutral zone infraction on fourth down wasn’t enough to prevent a third consecutive punt by Dixon. Benjamin slipped out of a couple tackles but was chased out of bounds after a 20-yard return.

Denver forced a quick three-and-out, including Miller and Brandon Marshall chasing down Rivers and creating an intentional grounding penalty, and took over on their own 27 after a 56-yard Kaser punt and a six-yard return from Sharp.

The run game continued be slow-starting on the other side of the second quarter when C.J. Anderson was tackled for a loss on Denver’s first play of the quarter. Siemian was almost picked off on the very next play, throwing the ball right into the chest of Jahleel Addae who dropped the pass. The QB almost made up for the near mistake with a 23-yard scramble on third down, but rookie left tackle Garett Bolles was flagged for holding on the play and again Denver had to punt.

Los Angeles put together the first sustained drive of the day on their ensuing possession, going 65 yards over 5:55 for their second score of the day. A 19-yard pass to Keenan Allen on third-and-seven (a free play thanks to Shaquil Barrett jumping offside) set up Austin Ekeler‘s first NFL receiving touchdown on the next play. Ekeler, signed as an undrafted rookie was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II’s Heisman) for Western State in Gunnison, Colo. in 2016.

The ensuing drive didn’t start well for Denver when Siemian was crushed by Melvin Ingram on third-and-six. An unsportsmanlike conduct on Ingram for connecting with Siemian’s helmet moved the chains, but it raised concern for Siemian’s health. The quarterback was already playing with a sprained left shoulder suffered in the loss to New York last week. After a first-down conversion by Devontae Booker, Siemian was sacked again, this time fumbling at the Chargers’ 38-yard line and the disastrous first half continued for Denver.

The Denver defense forced its third three-and-out in five possessions to give the offense another opportunity to put up points before the half but the ineptitude of the Broncos O continued. Siemian missed Demaryius Thomas deep on first down. Anderson bobbled and dropped a screen on second down. Siemian scrambled for six yards and was swallowed up by a sea of Chargers, forcing Dixon’s fifth punt of the day.

The Chargers, who were out-gained by the Broncos 109-106 in the first half, punted the ball back to Denver at the 2:00 warning. A quick three-and-out, however, (including an eight-yard sack of Siemian on first down, handed the ball right back. Los Angeles would not attempt to do anything with the next possession and the half mercifully came to an end.

Denver went three-and-out four times in the half not including their fumble on third down on the opening drive. They punted six times in the half.

As always, the team at MHS was monitoring social media for the top posts as the game unfolded. Here’s what some of our favorite follows had to say about another slow start for the Broncos…

P.S. – Vic didn’t include their final punt…