For a team that has Super Bowl or bust aspirations, the Denver Broncos took a hard hit in their 27-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers in the final regular season game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The Broncos were going after their 11th straight AFC West victory, but the team that emerged went 2-for-9 on third down and allowed Philip Rivers nearly 39 minutes of time in the national spotlight, not counting his additional minutes up on the NFL Network set in his bolo tie.
The Broncos started strong with an opening drive that ended in a Peyton Manning to Andre Caldwell touchdown, but then the team fell flat.
A couple of athletic touchdowns by Chargers rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen had the Chargers up 17-10 at halftime. A big run by Ryan Mathews put the Bolts up 24-10 with 11 minutes left in the third quarter.
Britton Colquitt placed a great punt at the 1-yard line, and the Broncos defense got the Chargers punt unit back on. It was all for nothing though as Nate Irving was called for a neutral zone infraction, and gave the Chargers a new set of downs. The penalty took 6:56 off the clock. Big and untimely penalties will hinder any team.
The Broncos couldn’t find enough juice in the short week to come back from the two touchdown deficit. Manning found Caldwell once gain to make it a one score game, and the defense even got a big stop. However, with less then five minutes left in the game, Manning threw an interception into the hands of Thomas Keiser. The Chargers were already in field goal range at that point, and so they tacked on another three points.
Tick, tick, tick ran the clock.
The Broncos tacked on a Matt Prater field goal, but the team couldn’t recover the onside kick. Tick, tick, tick. Boom! The Broncos lost their first home game of the season.
“I give San Diego’s defense a lot of credit,” Manning said. “We just didn’t play as well and didn’t stay on the field. We didn’t have the ball much, and when we had it, we didn’t do enough with it.”
Manning went 27-for-41 for 289 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The run game struggled earning only one first down all night. Knowshon Moreno had 8 carries for 19 yards (2.4 avg) and Montee Ball had 3 carries for -1 yard. Ball did have 5 receptions for 49 yards.
It was the lowest point total for the Broncos of the season. However, the team’s defense really felt the heat playing against a well-balanced offense.
Rivers went 12-for-20 for 166 yards and two touchdowns while Mathews ran for 127 yards and a score on 29 carries. The team went 6-for-12 on third down and made sure to keep Manning off the field.
The Broncos defense had inconsistent pressure on Rivers and the secondary looked particularly thin. Rivers picked on rookie CB Kayvon Webster all evening.
“I don’t look at it like that,” Webster said of if he feels like offenses are targeting him on the field. “If they feel like that’s where they want to go then I have to put myself in a position to make the best play. I want them to keep coming after me because tat is just making me better week in and week out.”
What the defense needs is its starters back. The line looked inexperienced without Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe out there. The secondary looked depleted without Rahim Moore. Champ Bailey would be a welcomed addition just for another set of legs.
The Broncos didn’t deserve to win this one. Hopefully this feeling hits them hard and gives them the boost they need to make a long playoff run. Now isn’t the time to fall flat and trip over a team like San Diego.
This is the time to sprint down that final stretch.