Icing a kick has never been so cold.
Younghoe Koo, the Los Angeles Chargers rookie who won the Chargers’ kicking job to become just the fourth Korean-born NFL player, had everything break right for a legendary NFL debut. In prime time, in the final seconds of a Broncos game that capped the first week of the season, he had the opportunity to send the game to overtime on the road against a division rival on Monday Night Football after an astonishing Chargers comeback. No pressure.
Koo nailed the kick, and NFL fans still awake felt joy for the first time since the Pats lost on Thursday. The feeling didn’t last long. Cruelly, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph called a timeout to ice him, which nine times out of 10 is a strategic way to delay a loss by 30 seconds. But on the second go-round Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris blocked the kick and left Sports Authority Field celebrating a victory in what was easily the most exciting game of Week 1, even though the outcome should never have been in doubt.
The Broncos appeared to have the game firmly in their grasp with just 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter and a 24–7 lead. But in less than four minutes, the game went topsy-turvy. Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian was intercepted on a bizarre screen in which Chargers cornerback Desmond King blatantly grabbed intended receiver Bennie Fowler III’s jersey before sending the ball flying off King’s leg and into the arms of Chargers safety Adrian Phillips. On the ensuing drive, Keenan Allen caught a touchdown. Then Jamaal Charles fumbled — perhaps because of a jinx from the ESPN broadcast, which had just put up a graphic on screen comparing him to Jim Brown. The Chargers recovered and Rivers threw a 38-yard touchdown to Travis Benjamin on the very next play. The Broncos’ lead had been cut to 24–21 with seven minutes left to play.
It was particularly surprising to see the Broncos’ lead slip after Denver had looked like a well-oiled machine for much of the game. Siemian — who finished 17-of-28 for 219 yards, two touchdowns, and the aforementioned pick — played better than his critics would have imagined. Surely nobody thought he could make last season’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, Joey Bosa, collapse with a cutback.
Part of Denver’s success Monday was their offensive line, which gave up 40 sacks and ranked 27th in pass protection last season, according to Football Outsiders. That offensive line was revamped for 2017, including two new tackles in right tackle Menelik Watson and rookie left tackle Garett Bolles. “Rookie left tackle” is usually a three-word recipe for disaster, especially when lining up against players like Bosa and Melvin Ingram in his first career start.
The Broncos blockers fared relatively well for three quarters, but the wheels came off in the fourth quarter when Bosa and Ingram came alive. With two minutes to go and Los Angeles down three points, the script for Koo’s debut couldn’t have been written any better. And then his storybook finish was scrapped.
Younghoe Koo's kick BLOCKED. pic.twitter.com/jdoRrgWlY1— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 12, 2017
Koo’s disappointing blocked kick is a perfect cap to an oddly dissatisfying slate of Week 1 games. We saw just one quarterback throw more than two touchdowns on Sunday, and only one running back deliver more than one rushing touchdown on the week. Beyond the numbers, though, a lot of teams looked rusty. Whether this week’s diminished quality is due to reduced practice time in the offseason, the jettisoning of experienced veterans for younger and cheaper talent, or merely chance is tough to say. But Koo’s moment never coming to be, especially after all of the build-up, feels like Week 1 in a nutshell.