KJ Hamler’s first career TD catch lifts Broncos to comeback over Chargers
KJ Hamler checked off two notable career achievements Sunday — first NFL touchdown and first-ever game-ending score at any level — with his 1-yard scoring catch from Drew Lock as time expired.
Hamler’s grab at the right boundary of the end zone while falling backward sealed Denver’s improbable comeback, 31-30 over the Chargers, and also signaled the first big professional moment for the team’s rookie second-round draft pick from Penn State.
“We were in the huddle (before the final play), and I said to the team, ‘This is how legends are made right here,’” Hamler said. “We got the play and everything went blank. As soon as I saw the ball coming to me, the first thing I thought was, ‘Secure the catch and fall.’ Drew put it on the money.”
Hamler finished with three receptions for 13 yards, and his game-winning catch came thanks to separation created by Lock’s rollout to the right, which enabled Hamler to lose Chargers safety Rayshawn Jenkins in coverage. Hamler then found an open spot in the end zone as cornerback Tevaughn Campbell closed late to the ball, and the wideout held on as he hit the grass.
“I always loved the option of rolling out a little bit, and making somebody take me, and if they don’t take me I just fling my body into the end zone as best as I can,” Lock said. “(Jenkins) ended up taking me and left KJ. (open).”
Hamler missed two games this season due to hamstring injuries (the season opener against Tennessee and Week 6 against New England) but is starting to settle in as a main offensive threat. And Hamler wasn’t the only young offensive skill player who made a critical impact in a win that the wideout said will build the Broncos “a lot of momentum” as Denver improved to 3-4.
Third-year wideout DaeSean Hamilton, also from Penn State, set a career high with 82 yards receiving on four catches, while rookie wideout Jerry Jeudy (four catches for 73 yards) and rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (one catch for nine yards) also made their presence felt. Okwuegbunam drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone on the penultimate play of the game that set up Hamler’s game-winning catch, which withstood review.
“That two-minute drill, I hop into the huddle and I’m seeing baby faces,” Lock said. “Not only myself, but we’ve got young (rookies) in there where it’s their seventh game, and Albert, it’s his third. With Tim (Patrick) being out (with a hamstring injury) and those guys coming in and playing in the way they did, and with DaeSean playing a massive game for us, that was huge.”
Hamler, whose acclimation into the Denver offense was slowed by his initial hamstring injury during training camp, believes Sunday can be a launching pad to bigger individual performances throughout the rest of the season. Hamler kept himself mentally engaged in the offense during that training camp injury by journaling the offense in a notebook every day.
The 21-year-old may continue to see more targets, even if Patrick returns to the lineup next Sunday in Atlanta.
“I think it can be a big breakthrough for me,” Hamler said. “Just to show the guys that I can be a reliable guy, and always be accountable.”
Hamler now has 11 receptions for 115 yards on the season, while Jeudy has 23 catches for 359 yards.