Before I write this article, I would like to lament the death of my fantasy football team, which featured Bronco’s QB Peyton Manning and RBs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. It was the championship game and you guys rushed for a combined 18 yards! Should I fail to win the ‘ship, which looks highly probable right now, I will always hate the San Diego Chargers for their outstanding performance on Thursday Night Football.
Now that I’ve put in my obligatory fantasy football whine, lets get down to business. An inspired performance by the San Diego Chargers saw them beat the 11-2 (now 11-3) Denver Broncos 27-20 away in Colorado! The Broncos struck first in the opening quarter, with Peyton Manning going 4/5 before hitting Andre Caldwell for the 15-yard touchdown. Manning cut the Chargers’ defense open with methodical passes, much like he has been doing all year. But then, something changed. After a Nick Novak field goal to get the Chargers’ on the board, San Diego’s defense forced three straight three-and-outs from the league’s most explosive offense. Poor pass protection and good coverage by the Chargers’ allowed their own QB, Philip Rivers, to control the game and spend more time on the field. The Chargers offense was on the field for close to 39 minutes, with the Broncos barely eclipsing 21. The Chargers’ ended the first half with a convincing 17-10 lead, thanks to rookie WR Keenan Allen, who likely wrapped up the Offensive Rookie of the Year award with his performance Thursday night.
In the second half, no much changed. Manning and the Broncos offense continued to struggle and the Broncos’ defense couldn’t make any plays. Manning also threw a costly interception and Denver couldn’t get any production out of their running game. The Broncos rushed for 18 yards the entire game! Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball were absolutely unable to find any running room, which likely put additional pressure on Manning to throw contested passes. The Chargers extended the lead to 24-10 on RB Ryan Mathews 35-yard run in the third quarter. To top off Denver’s bad night, the Broncos committed two huge penalties that cost the Broncos seven potential minutes on the field. Manning was able to find Caldwell in the fourth for another touchdown, but the slow pace in which Rivers moved the Chargers’ offense left little time on the clock for Manning to operate. He got the ball with five minutes left in the game and was able to get a Matt Prater field goal to bring the deficit to 7, but the ensuing onside kick didn’t reach the required 10 yards and Rivers ended the game by taking a knee. Here are a couple points of emphasis on the night:
Ryan Mathews. Mathews has taken a lot of flak over the years for his inability to stay healthy. While his health may be of concern, his talent certainly isn’t. Mathews shredded the Denvers defense with 29 carried for 127 yards. Mathews was able to get a few crucial first downs, including converting a couple of 3 and 1?s with some great second effort attempts. Mathews has really impressed San Diego with his performance during the second half of this season. He’s shown some great vision on the field and has run effectively. The Chargers didn’t really have to use back-up back Danny Woodhead as much as they normally do, with Woodhead only recording nine carries.
San Diego’s Defense. With Wes Welker sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, the Chargers focused on shutting down DeMaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas, the Broncos’ most potent weapons without Welker. The result? Thomas, Decker, and Thomas recorded less than 140 yards receiving. Total. Peyton was forced to throw to seldom-used fourth-string WR Caldwell, with the result being two trips to the endzone for the Florida product. The Chargers also effectively stopped Denvers’ backs from gaining on the traction on the ground, holding Moreno to 19 yards rushing and Ball to -1. They were able to clog the running lanes, with Moreno’s longest run only six yards. They also batted down two of Mannings’ passes (the most any team has been able to do all year) and sacked him on two crucial third downs. This inspired defense will remain crucial if the Chargers hope to make the playoffs.
The loss to the Chargers makes Denvers’ chances of grasping home-field advantage throughout the playoffs unlikely. The New England Patriots will have to lose one of their next three games and the Broncos will have to win their remaining match-ups with the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders. This loss also means that Denver will be unable to rest it’s stars before the playoffs as they have to win every game to seize home-field advantage. Should the Broncos have won, they would only have to beat the Texans, rendering their match-up with the Raiders meaningless and affording Manning some much-needed rest before the playoffs.
On the other hand, the Chargers keep their playoffs hopes alive. They stand at 7-7, a record that is still unlikely to make the postseason. San Diegos’ main competitors for the last remaining playoff spot in the AFC are the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, with both teams owning the tiebreaker in their respective match-up. The Chargers will have to win their last two games and hope the Dolphins and Ravens go 1-2 or 0-3, unlikely scenarios given the quality of the opponents they still have to play. Still, the convincing win over the Broncos should boost their confidence in knowing that they can be a great team if they play consistenly well.