What we learned: Rookies lead Chargers to victory

San Diego's rookie draft class played a starring role Thursday night, leading the Chargers to a 21-13 victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 6. Here's what we learned:

  1. Qualcomm Stadium exhaled a collective sigh of relief when C.J. Anderson's brilliant 20-yard touchdown catch-and-run was nullified by a Russell Okung holding penalty with just over four minutes remaining and the Chargers clinging to a 21-10 lead. Fifth-round rookie linebacker Jatavis Brown took over on the next two plays, sacking Trevor Siemian and forcing a fumble on Demaryius Thomas. Rather than facing a 21-17 nail biter and the possibility of their fourth blown fourth-quarter lead in six games, the Bolts defense thwarted the Broncos' comeback attempt. If the victory helps turn San Diego's snakebitten season around, coach Mike McCoy might look upon Okung's crucial penalty as a last-minute reprieve from the hangman.
  1. Dallas' dynamic duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott aside, it's hard to imagine a rookie draft class shining to the extent of San Diego's foursome of Brown, first-round pass rusher Joey Bosa, second-round tight end Hunter Henry and sixth-round punter Drew Kaser.

Two games into his fledgling career, Bosa has the look of a game-changing talent at the line of scrimmage, putting constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He's well worth the wait after an extended August holdout. The offensive star of the game, Henry is already outplaying Antonio Gates -- the legend he will soon succeed as Philip Rivers' go-to target down the seam and in the red zone. An upgrade on injured inside linebacker Manti Te'o, Brown led the way on defense with 13 solo tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. Kaser averaged 47.5 yards per punt, pinning the Broncos inside the 20-yard line three times.

  1. Rivers was a surgeon in the first half, picking Denver's dominant defense apart with pinpoint throw after pinpoint throw in a spread attack. His 12-yard pass to Hunter in the second quarter pushed him past Hall of Famer Dan Fouts for most passing yards in franchise history. By halftime, the Chargers held decisive edges in time of possession (20:27 to 9:33) and total yards (173 to 60) but led by just a touchdown. The first-half mastery was no surprise, as San Diego owns an NFL-best +57 point differential in the opening half this season -- a sure sign that the roster is strong enough to contend if they stop trying to sit on their fourth-quarter leads.
  1. The Bolts play hard for their head coach, but the game management of McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt remains an issue. Fabled former Packers coach Vince Lombardi learned early in his career never try to sit on the ball for an entire quarter, enabling the opponent to gain ground on the scoreboard and keep hopes alive. McCoy has yet to get that pigskin religion. After jumping out to a first-quarter lead, the Chargers went conservative in the red zone, settling for field goals in the second quarter. After watching Rivers pick apart Denver's defense in the first half, McCoy and Whisenhunt tried to take the air out of the ball in the second half, stifling their own offense. If McCoy doesn't start coaching with a modicum of aggressiveness when he has a commanding lead, he's going to continue to bury his head in his hands during excruciating late-game comeback situations.
  1. The boxscore doesn't tell the tale of the Broncos' offensive ineptitude that extends back to last week's loss to the Falcons. Siemian's offense went nearly 15 minutes without a first down in the second and third quarters. Before the comeback push late in the third quarter, Denver managed just 82 total yards and three first downs. Although Siemian invited criticism by checking down at the hint of pressure, the root cause of the stalled offense has been an overmatched offensive line and a dormant rushing attack.
  1. Coach Gary Kubiak revealed last week that Devontae Booker was poised to take on a bigger role, with hopes that the rookie running back's fresh legs would inject life into into the ground game. Booker was more effective than Anderson at San Diego, averaging 7.6 yards per touch. To be fair, though, Anderson's three biggest plays -- 12, 15 and 20 yards -- were negated by penalties. The electric cut Anderson made on the nullified touchdown suggests he still has plenty of playmaking ability if the blocking improves. The veteran also holds a major edge in pass protection, ensuring a steady week-to-week role even if Booker siphons just enough of the workload to give fantasy football owners fits.
  1. Even with the season-ending injuries to No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen, veteran wideout Stevie Johnson and underrated passing-down back Danny Woodhead, Rivers' arsenal has plenty of firepower. Hunter is one of the most promising young tight ends in football, Gates remains a key possession receiver, second-year wideout Tyrell Williams is loaded with talent and Rivers knows how to utilize speedster Travis Benjamin. The Chargers are strong enough to back McCoy's post game declaration that "this is a good football team," but they will be tested the next two weeks at Atlanta and the quick rematch at Denver.
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