By Rich Kurtzman
The Broncos went into San Diego knowing a win would tie the teams up at 3-3, and a loss would move Denver two games behind the Chargers.
Denver started incredibly slowly. They couldn’t get into a rhythm offensively and the defense was getting worked on nearly every drive. Two special teams fumbles in the first quarter set the Chargers up with easy scores, and they took the 10-0 lead as a result. They pushed that lead to 24-0 at halftime, but the Broncos wouldn’t quit.
Denver, led by Peyton Manning, scored 35 unanswered points in the second half to win the game and take the AFC West lead. Here’s how they graded.
The offense was out of sync early and couldn’t find a rhythm. Peyton Manning and the offense finally started getting into a rhythm in the second quarter when they went into the no-huddle. He had a great checkdown to Willis McGahee that went for 25 yards and a first down on third but the drive stalled at midfield. After the Leonhard interception, the Broncos drove down to the Chargers’ 20, but when Matt Willis ran a go route instead of a hitch, it turned into a pick-six and a 17-0 deficit. They went three-and-out in the subsequent drive and failed to score in the first half.
They came out on fire in the second half, going 85 yards for their first touchdown of the game. Early in the fourth quarter, the offense worked to perfection as the Broncos marched down the field for a 55-yard touchdown drive. Eric Decker was superb at running his routes, and Tamme came through huge on a third-and-16 play that went for 25 yards down the sideline. That drive was finished with a touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley to take the game to 28-24.
Great stop early to keep the Chargers out of the end zone and without a first down, when they took it over on the Broncos’ 20 following the muffed punt. Jim Leonard came up huge in the second quarter, picking off a Phillip Rivers pass with one hand and giving Denver the ball back.
In the third quarter, the Broncos sent an all-out blitz and Elvis Dumervil got to Phillip Rivers, forcing a fumble that Tony Carter returned for a touchdown to bring the game to 24-14. It was a spectacular play and at just the right time. On the very next drive, Derek Wolfe and Von Miller got to Rivers and sacked him on third down to force a three-and-out. Later in the fourth, Carter picked off a pass, making his second huge play of the game.
With seven minutes left, Chris Harris picked off Rivers, shutting down a potential go-ahead drive. It was a tremendous play. And to finish the game, Harris picked Rivers off and took the ball to the house to put the Broncos up 35-24. It stands as the first time ever Rivers has thrown four interceptions in a game.
Peyton Manning was slow to get into a groove, and he hit Eric Decker on a wide open pass that went for 45 yards. But Decker tackled himself and then threw an interception two plays later on a miscommunication with Matt Willis. Manning lit it on fire to start the second half, hitting Joel Dreessen down the seam for a big gain, then connecting with Eric Decker for a 15-yard gain. He capped it off with a precise pass to Demaryius Thomas for the 29-yard touchdown, the Broncos’ first.
Later in the second, Manning hit Tamme for a 25-yard gain on third-and-16, then caught the Chargers with 12 men on the field which resulted in a second-and-one. Two plays later, Manning hopped over two defenders as he moved to his left and hit Decker. Then he connected with Decker on the next play, and the receiver pushed the ball into the end zone. Manning was magnificent when he audibled and connected with Stokley for the go ahead touchdown.
Special teams: F
Trindon Holliday, signed Wednesday, fumbled the Chargers’ first punt of the game. A San Diego player came close to hitting him as he waited for the fair catch, possibly distracting Holliday, who muffed the punt and gave the Chargers the ball on the Broncos’ 20. Denver’s defense saved the special teams, forcing a 32-yard field goal that San Diego made. On the very next kickoff, Nick Novak kicked it a bit weird and it bounced with backspin, away from Broncos’ returner Omar Bolden, who picked the ball up but quickly gave it back to San Diego. The Chargers took over at Denver’s 19 yard line and turned the turnover into a touchdown to take the 10-0 lead.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.