For the first time all season, the Broncos (8-1) failed to score 30 points (or 33, to be exact), but they leave San Diego with a 28-20 (Gamebook) win over the Chargers (4-5), setting up next week's showdown at SAF@MH against the Chiefs (9-0).
In the team's first game without head coach John Fox, who's in North Carolina recovering from heart valve replacement surgery, Peyton Manning threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Demaryius Thomas on consecutive possessions - two to close the first half, and another to open the second.
San Diego pulled one over on Denver with a successful punt fake on their opening possession, but the Broncos eventually forced a punt.
It took only three plays for Denver to get onto the scoreboard, as Peyton Manning hit Julius Thomas for a 74-yard catch and run which included some deft sideline footwork.
For Manning, it was his 30th touchdown pass of the year, and it also put him over 3,000 yards for the season. It was Thomas’s ninth touchdown reception; his only scoreless games have come against Philly and Washington. Shannon Sharpe holds the Broncos’ single-season record for most touchdowns by a tight end; he had 10 each in 1996 and 1998. Thomas’s nine scores ties him with Sharpe’s 1993 campaign for third most among Denver tight ends.
San Diego then put together a beautiful drive, one which consumed 14 plays, 9:20 of game clock, and 72 yards. But Mike McCoy reprised his decision from last week’s loss at Washington, when he played for overtime, left his team’s fortunes to a coin flip, and never saw the ball again.
This time, he opted for a 26-yard field goal with just one yard to gain - against a team that averages 5.5 touchdowns per game - bringing the Chargers to within 7-3 at the start of the second quarter.
A third-down sack by Larry English reportedly had Manning limping a bit on the sideline, as the teams combined for a trio of punts, the last a so-so effort from Britton Colquitt.
A 35-yard run by Ryan Mathews followed, setting up the Chargers for a 40-yard field goal which made the score 7-6 Denver.
But field goals are no good against these Broncos, who responded with a quick seven-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a Demaryius Thomas 11-yard score. Like Julius before him, Demaryius employed some beautiful footwork on his touchdown, staying in bounds just long enough to wave the ball over the end zone for the score, and extending Denver’s lead to 14-6.
San Diego put together another fine drive, but Nick Novak yanked his 37-yard attempt, preserving Denver’s advantage. Remember, Mathletes: not only are FGs no good against these Broncos, but field goals are never a sure thing, no matter how short. (That’s not to criticize the decision, as it was the right one facing 4th-and-11.)
Manning & Co. needed just 1:22 to travel 71 yards in nine plays, with the last two plays a 28-yard beauty and seven-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius, which put the Broncos up 21-6 at halftime.
San Diego had dominated the TOP by a 22:29-to-7:31 margin in the half, but Manning’s 243 yards and three scores easily topped Rivers’ 91 and zero.
After halftime, the Broncos exploded for another quick touchdown drive, this time an eight-play, 78-yard possession that took just 3:26 of game clock and ended with Demaryius’s third score of the game. This time, it was a 34-yard screen that featured his trademark acceleration.
It was Manning’s fourth touchdown pass of the day, and it provided the Broncos a commanding 28-6 advantage.
Although the defense forced a quick three-and-out, Tourek Williams owned Chris Clark on the next second down and knocked the ball out of Peyton’s hand.
Two snaps later, Rivers hit Danny Woodhead for a seven-yard touchdown pass, and the Chargers were sort of back in the game at 28-13.
San Diego was back in the game for real not much later, as a 60-yard drive and one-yard plunge by Ryan Mathews pulled them within 28-20 with 10:44 remaining in regulation.
The Chargers then forced Denver into their third consecutive punt, but a fumbled snap and then a sack by Von Miller helped cut San Diego’s possession short.
Denver took over with 3:26 to play and an eight-point lead, and a trio of first downs iced their eighth victory of the season.
A questionable hit (low and possibly late) by Corey Liuget on Manning left the quarterback limping; aside from the matchup with the Chiefs, look for Peyton's health to be the big storyline of the week.
For now, Manning says (his ankle) is really sore, and he'll undergo an MRI on Monday.
- Manning now has 33 touchdowns and is on pace for 59 on the season, plus 5,776 yards
- Denver was just 3/8 on third downs
- San Diego dominated the time of possession by a 38:03 to 21:57 margin
- However, they only ran 68 plays to Denver's 60, with the Broncos' 8.7 yards per pass (versus 6.8 for the Chargers) the difference
- Knowshon Moreno gained 114 yards from scrimmage, his fifth time over 100 yards this season, and fourth time in the past five games
- Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan each totaled 11 tackles
- Manning's fumble was the game's only turnover and his seventh of the season, tying his single-season career high
- The win marks the Broncos' 300th under Pat Bowlen's ownership
- Videos: Highlights from BTV and NFLN; Jack Del Rio hands out game balls; Del Rio, Peyton Manning, and several others speak afterward; players and coaches congratulate Mr. B on his 300th win in a canned message
- Here are Del Rio's and Manning's quotes transcribed
- Lindsay Jones, Mike Klis, Billy Witz, the AP, and Jeff Legwold wrap up the win; Andrew Mason revisits his three keys