8:25 PM ET, December 12, 2013
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
DENVER -- Now, Peyton Manning gets a chance to rest.
Big question: Does he really need a break?
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Rivers threw two touchdown passes to Keenan Allen and kept the Chargers' offense on the field for nearly 39 minutes, keeping their playoff hopes alive while turning Denver's supposedly easy road to the AFC West title and top seeding in the conference into something much different.
"We didn't play well, didn't stay on the field, didn't have the ball much, and, when we did, we didn't do much with it," Manning said.
The Broncos gained 13 yards on the 13 plays they ran after taking a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter. That covered four drives during which they went three-and-out three times and picked up a total of one first down.
"The longer you keep the ball and the less he has it, the better off you're going to be," said Chargers coach Mike McCoy, Manning's former offensive coordinator.
Rivers finished 12-for-20 for 166 yards and improved to 28-6 in December. Ryan Mathews matched his season high with 127 yards on 29 carries.
After Denver's long dry spell on offense, San Diego led 24-10, and although the Broncos (11-3) had overcome double-digit deficits four times this season to win, it wasn't happening this time.
They pulled within seven, and Manning got the ball on the Denver 3 with 5:50 left. He moved the Broncos 30 yards in two plays with the help of a penalty. But the Chargers' maligned defense produced some pass rush and forced a bad throw, which linebacker Thomas Keiser picked off at the Denver 33.
The Chargers (7-7) got a field goal to go up 10. Denver answered with a field goal but couldn't recover the onside kick.
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Manning's final numbers were decent -- 27-for-41 for 289 yards and two touchdowns -- but padded during desperation time.
As most veterans do, especially this time of year, Manning griped about the short turnaround between a Sunday and Thursday game, the likes of which have become more common since the NFL started scheduling midweek contests for almost every week. Adding to the fatigue: Denver ran 91 plays on offense while scoring 51 points Sunday in a blowout over Tennessee.
"Did the (91) plays on offense take a toll? I can't answer that," Manning said.
Now he'll get 10 days to chew on it. It was the first regular-season loss at home for Denver in 14 tries, dating to last September against Houston, back when Manning was still getting his footing in Denver and the Texans, who happen to be the Broncos' next opponent, were still good.
"A Thursday night game, second division game, you're never sure what you're going to get," Manning said. "But it's been that way all season for us. Teams play us different than they play other teams."
Whatever it was, it worked for the Chargers, who started gaining some confidence against Denver when they scored the final 14 points in a 28-20 loss to the Broncos last month. It doesn't hurt that they're coached by Manning's former offensive coordinator, McCoy, who won the opening coin toss and boldly deferred, giving Manning the ball first.
Manning marched the Broncos 67 yards in seven plays for a quick score, and this had the look of a typical blowout for a team that has cracked 50 points three times this season.
Not so fast.
His every move well diagnosed, Manning had two passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Chargers defenders wrapped up on Denver's receivers, holding those much-coveted yards after catch to a minimum after so many of Manning's typically short timing routes. Not having to worry about Wes Welker, who is out with a concussion, they blanketed the other receivers and turned fourth-stringer Bubba Caldwell into Manning's prime target.
A good bet. Caldwell led Denver with six catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns, while none of the other Denver receivers did much harm.
Denver's previous low in scoring was 27 points against the Chiefs.
The defense, meanwhile, was poor once again -- not Super Bowl material on this night.
The most telling sequence came in the third quarter when Rivers moved the Chargers from their 1 to midfield over 12 plays. Denver committed two costly penalties -- an offside when San Diego had the punt team out on fourth-and-4, then a 12-men-on-the-field violation that set up first-and-5 and allowed the Chargers to burn more clock. Although they didn't score, they ate 8:20 off the clock and flipped the field.
"We didn't mention one word about time of possession this week," Rivers said. "We said, 'We've got to score.' Time of possession is only important if you're scoring."
The Chargers scored more, and now the Broncos must sweat out the race in the AFC.
Their three losses now are equal with New England and Kansas City. Denver owns the tiebreaker against the Chiefs but not against the Patriots. The Broncos' next two games are against Houston and Oakland -- which have a combined record of 6-20 -- but after a home loss to another losing team, suddenly anything seems possible.
The Broncos had their 10-game winning streak against the AFC West snapped. ... Allen now has scored four touchdowns in the past two games. ... Broncos rookie DT Sylvester Williams recorded his first career sack.
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 12: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos prepares for their game against the San Diego...(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Team Stat Comparison
Passing 1st downs
Rushing 1st downs
1st downs from Penalties
3rd down efficiency
4th down efficiency
|Yards per play||5.1||5.6|
Comp - Att
Yards per pass
Sacks - Yards Lost
Yards per rush
|Red Zone (Made-Att)||2-4||2-3|
|Defensive / Special Teams TDs||0||0|
|TD||11:51||Andre Caldwell 15 Yd Pass From Peyton Manning (Matt Prater Kick)||0||7|
|FG||05:15||Nick Novak 38 Yd||3||7|
|FG||01:22||Matt Prater 32 Yd||3||10|
|TD||09:46||Keenan Allen 19 Yd Pass From Philip Rivers (Nick Novak Kick)||10||10|
|TD||01:05||Keenan Allen 10 Yd Pass From Philip Rivers (Nick Novak Kick)||17||10|
|TD||11:06||Ryan Mathews 23 Yd Run (Nick Novak Kick)||24||10|
|TD||10:25||Andre Caldwell 5 Yd Pass From Peyton Manning (Matt Prater Kick)||24||17|
|FG||02:36||Nick Novak 35 Yd||27||17|
|FG||00:29||Matt Prater 42 Yd||27||20|
As the Chargers showed Thursday, there might be a formula on how to stop the Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense - keep them on the sideline. Denver ran a season-low 53 plays Thursday, the lowest by the Broncos since Week 6 of last season (52 also against the Chargers). The Broncos 21:11 time of possession was the lowest by an offense with Peyton Manning at the helm since Week 2 of 2009, when the Colts beat the Dolphins on Monday Night Football.
The Broncos two remaining opponents are the Texans and Raiders, who are a combined 6-20. That's the easiest remaining strength of schedule in the NFL.
Ryan Mathews: 127 rushing yards for Chargers. He's the 1st player to rush for at least 100 yards in a game against the Broncos this season (last to do so in regular season was Jamaal Charles in 2012 Week 12-- 107 yards). Mathews' 127 yards were the most by anyone in a regular-season game against the Broncos since Stevan Ridley of the Patriots had 151 in 2012 Week 5. Ray Rice also had 131 rushing yards against the Broncos in last year's divisional playoff game.
Points were scored on each of the 1st 4 drives tonight in Denver and that shouldn't be surprising.... The Broncos (47.0%) and Chargers (43.7%) entered the night ranked 1st and 2nd in the NFL in percentage of offensive drives ending in points this season (TDs or FGs).
This will be the 5th time Peyton Manning has faced the Chargers in December or January. The first 4 meetings have yielded just a 1-3 record (and 3 straight losses), but Manning HAS averaged 355.8 passing yards in those games. The Chargers defense that will oppose Manning tonight is allowing 266.7 passing yards per game, 5th most in the NFL.[+]
Struck By Lightning - Peyton Manning vs Chargers in December/January (Including Playoffs)
Wes Welker is out tonight (concussion) when the Broncos host the Chargers and Peyton Manning will miss his presence. Welker leads all players in targets, catches, yards and first downs from the slot this season.[+]
WES WELKER IN THE SLOT POSITION THIS SEASON
ESPN Stats & Information