Royal’s TD returns help Broncos top Chargers 34-23
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
SAN DIEGO – Eddie Royal thinks one San Diego Chargers player got a hand on him during his 93-yard kickoff return in the first quarter Monday night.
He knows no one touched him on his 71-yard punt return in the second quarter.
That’s how much of a blur he was in sparking the undefeated Denver Broncos to a dominating 34-23 win over the Chargers.
“Man, it was a great feeling. The guys did a great job of blocking,” he said of the second return. “I’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They opened up the seams and it was a home run.”
Royal became the first player in Broncos history to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game, and the 11th player in NFL history to perform the feat.
Darren Sproles, one of the other players to have a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns in a game, had a 77-yard punt return for a San Diego score.
The three returns for TDs tied the NFL record for a game.
Royal said the Chargers have aggressive special-teams players, and the Broncos knew they had to take them out.
“You’ve got to believe it can happen before you do it,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in the guys in front of me, so I wasn’t surprised.”
Coach Josh McDaniels agreed.
“I think our guys did a great job of blocking and giving Eddie a chance to get started,” McDaniels said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are playing; you give up two big returns on a punt and a kickoff and it makes it tough,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said.
This is the fifth time the Broncos have been 6-0, the first since going 13-0 in 1998 en route to winning their second straight Super Bowl behind John Elway. They opened a 31/2-game lead in the AFC West over three-time defending division champion San Diego (2-3).
“It’s going to be tough,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We have to get over this one quick or we’ll find ourselves in trouble in Kansas City because it’s a short week.”
Denver outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil had two sacks to extend his NFL lead to 10. His second sack caused Rivers to fumble, with Vonnie Holliday recovering to set up Matt Prater’s 29-yard field goal. The Broncos sacked Rivers five times, three in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos didn’t get an offensive touchdown until Kyle Orton threw a 19-yard pass to tight end Tony Scheffler late in the third quarter for a 24-23 lead. Denver added a field goal by Prater and a late 5-yard touchdown catch by Brandon Stokley that was upheld on review.
“It’s tough to lose when you score twice on special teams,” Orton said.
After the Chargers were forced to settle for a field goal following a sensational drive late in the first quarter, Royal took the kickoff at the 7, found a big hole at about the 35, cut inside of kicker Nate Kaeding at the 50 and raced down the left sideline to give the Broncos a 7-3 lead.
In the second quarter, Royal fielded Mike Scifres’ punt on the bounce at the 29, worked his way inside, then outraced the coverage to the outside to give Denver a 17-10 lead.
Royal’s electrifying returns at first silenced Qualcomm Stadium, then had Chargers fans booing.
Sproles got in on the action when he returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown for a 20-17 lead that held up at halftime. Sproles caught Brett Kern’s punt, ran up the left sideline, got a nice block at about the 50, cut inside and was gone.
On Nov. 11, 2007, Sproles returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in a 23-21 win against Indianapolis.
The Chargers ran 22 plays to only six for the Broncos in the first quarter, in what seemed more like fast-break basketball than football.
Rivers, in fact, was about to be dragged down by Dumervil when he threw a two-handed chest pass to LaDainian Tomlinson for a 21-yard gain on San Diego’s second drive.
It was one of four passes by Rivers for at least 13 yards on the drive, which started at the San Diego 6-yard line.
The drive stalled, though, leading to some sideline drama involving Tomlinson.
Tomlinson wasn’t on the field on third-and-goal from the 2, when Sproles was stuffed for no gain. Coach Norv Turner had a chagrined look on his face as the Chargers had to settle for Kaeding’s 20-yard field goal.
Tomlinson walked down the sideline toward the bench and flipped his helmet. When he and Turner spoke a few minutes later, L.T. didn’t appear to be looking at the coach.
Rivers threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson with 6 seconds left in the first quarter for a 10-7 lead.
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