All week long, the focus was on San Diego’s running game and propensity to dominate time of possession.
The Chargers had held the ball for 38:03 of the teams’ first meeting in Week 10, and for 38:49 in the rematch five weeks later.
The Broncos will host the Patriots next Sunday at 3pm ET in the AFC Championship, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl 48 in New Jersey against either Seattle or San Francisco.
San Diego had averaged 170.2 rushing yards over its five-game run, but Denver held them to just 65 yards and one rushing first down.
Denver got a pair of big sacks on San Diego’s opening drive, which was extended by a face mask penalty against Malik Jackson.
That helped push the Broncos’ first possession to start at their own 14, but no matter; they motored 86 yards on 14 plays, converted two third downs, consumed 7:01 in game clock, and scored on a two-yard pass from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas.
A stout Denver run defense and a loud SAF@MH crowd combined to force a Chargers three-and-out, and the Broncos took over at their own 42 after a nice punt return from Eric Decker.
But a third down pass to Julius Thomas resulted in a questionable fumble that was upheld under video review, giving San Diego the ball at their 44.
Although the Chargers moved quickly into field goal range, Nick Novak yanked his 53-yard attempt wide left, leaving the Broncos with great field position at their 43.
They forced a punt 2.5 minutes later, and Eric Decker brought Mike Scifres’ 43-yard kick back 47 yards to the San Diego 30.
The Broncos got as close as the four-yard line in the final minute before half, but an ill-advised pass from Manning to a covered Decker bounced off the receiver’s chest and into the arms of Donald Butler.
Instead of a potential 17- or 21-point lead, Denver went to halftime up just 14-0.
Trindon Holliday took the second-half kickoff back to the Denver 36, and the Broncos made it as far as the San Diego 24, but a false start by Julius Thomas and a drop by Welker near the goal line halted their drive.
Matt Prater’s 45-yard attempt was barely good, sailing over the right goalpost to extend Denver’s lead to 17-0.
Once the Broncos got the ball back, they failed to convert from 1st-and-5 in FG range, and Prater’s
47-yard attempt sailed wide left.
It was a questionable decision to kick, as a conversion would have put the Broncos up 20-0, which isn’t really a whole lot better than 17-0 (still a three-score game).
From there, San Diego needed just six plays to get within 17-7, as Philip Rivers hit Keenan Allen for a 16-yard touchdown.
Denver’s subsequent drive benefited from an iffy pass interference call on a third down pass well over Welker’s head, and the nine-play possession went for 81 yards, 4:47 of game time, and stretched the advantage back to 17, as Knowshon Moreno punched it in from three yards out.
But Rivers & Co. needed only seven plays and 2:29 to go 80 yards, with Allen’s fourth touchdown catch in two games against Denver making the score 24-14.
On San Diego’s touchdown drives, Rivers victimized former longtime teammate Quentin Jammer for several chunky gains.
The Chargers then recovered an onside kick, and Novak’s 30-yarder made it a one-score game at 24-17.
From there, San Diego kicked deep, but never got the ball back, as Manning converted a pair of huge third downs to Julius Thomas - a 21-yard sideline throw and tiptoeing catch with 17 to gain, and a nine-yard dart when they needed six.
- Denver was 9/13 converting third downs
- San Diego held Denver under 400 yards of total offense in each of their three meetings (363 today)
- The Chargers did manage to limit Denver's possessions to just eight, but the Broncos never punted
- Over the three games, the Broncos turned the ball over four times but never took it away from the Chargers
- This is the third time Denver has won a playoff game while losing the turnover battle - the last was their Revenge Tour victory over the Chiefs (also a 0-2 turnover disadvantage)
- Eric Decker had a stellar 22-yard average on his three punt returns
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie defensed three passes
- Shaun Phillips sacked his pal Rivers twice; Malik Jackson and Jeremy Mincey added one each
- Keenan Allen caught six passes for 142 yards and two scores
- In the playoffs, Manning is now 10-11 overall, and 1-2 against the Chargers and Rivers
- This will be Denver's ninth trip to the AFC title game (they're 6-2), and their first since their 2005 loss to Pittsburgh
- Videos: Highlights from BTV and NFLN, and of Peyton Manning's day; Terrance Knighton's pregame speech; John Fox's postgame speech; John Fox, Peyton Manning, and several others speak afterward
- Lindsay Jones, Mike Klis, Jeff Legwold, Frank Schwab, Gregg Rosenthal, Eric Williams, Tod Leonard, and Sam Farmer recap the game
- Chris Harris was knocked out of the game by knee and ankle injuries
- Manning's extensive use of the word Omaha in his pre-snap instructions caught the attention of the Nebraska city's tourism bureau