The Denver Broncos just ripped a big monkey off their back.
Their amazing run of regular season success over the last two years was all wrapped up into a single game yesterday. The mere thought of losing their first playoff game again, this time to a division rival, was enough to keep Denver fans awake at night. There was no alternative; the Broncos HAD to win this game.
They responded with a gritty effort on both sides of the ball and won 24-17 over the San Diego Chargers.
The win relieved the pressure hanging over the franchise after last season’s playoff failure and propels them into the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
Now everyone can take their eyes off the rearview mirror and never look back. All that matters is what lies ahead. One more win and the Broncos will earn a trip to the Super Bowl.
Here are some thoughts on Denver’s playoff victory over the Chargers:
- The game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score and Eric Decker himself could have turned it into a laugher several times. He inexplicably tripped during a second quarter punt return when he could have high-stepped it in for a score. Then a few plays later he let a ball bounce off his numbers in the end zone and it was intercepted. If he converts either of those plays the score is 21-0 at halftime and Denver blows it open in the third quarter. Finally, he muffed the onside kick at the end of the game that allowed San Diego to pull within seven points. Let’s hope Decker has a better performance next Sunday afternoon.
- Philip Rivers never ceases to amaze me with how little class he displays on the field. He’s constantly whining, screaming at his teammates, jawing at the opponent and the opponent’s fans, complaining to the referees, and really just acting like a jerk. Can you imagine Peyton Manning ever acting like that? Rivers may be a good person according to accounts out of San Diego, but good guy or not I have zero respect for a player that carries himself that poorly on the football field.
- In the loss to San Diego a few weeks ago Denver lost the third down battle on both sides of the ball, the time of possession, had less total yards, more penalties and less sacks. The Broncos won every one of those stat categories this time around and beat the Chargers at their own game.
- Peyton Manning didn’t have his best game on the stat sheet but he was masterful yesterday. He led the offense to a 9 for 13 conversion rate on 3rd downs and a beautiful final drive that ate up the last 4 minutes of the game. That drive included an amazing 21-yard completion to Julius Thomas when he was under pressure on 3rd and 17. When the game was on the line, Manning delivered.
- Knowshon Moreno finished with 94 total yards and Montee Ball tacked on 52. Those 146 yards were 128 more than they had rushing against San Diego when they lost several weeks ago. These two guys will have to keep it up if Denver wants to take down the Patriots.
- It was quite the afternoon for Shaun Phillips and I imagine he woke up today with a big smile on his face. The ex-Charger finished with 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss and 2 quarterback hits.
- The one place on the stat sheet the Broncos could still not beat the Chargers was turnovers. Denver gave it up twice, although both were bad breaks, and couldn’t force one of their own. If they want to win the whole thing I believe the defense will have to force a turnover at a key moment. I sure hope they can pull it off.
- The news that Chris Harris is out for the season with a knee injury is disappointing and a big blow to a defense already bitten hard by the injury bug. But if there’s a team out there that can overcome another injury it’s these Broncos. It also sets up a huge opportunity for Champ Bailey. If he can step up and play just two games like the Bailey from 2005 he could ride off into the sunset as a champion. That would be quite the storybook ending.
- Next up for Denver is a home AFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon against the New England “Evil Empire” Patriots. At this point Denver just has to find a way to survive and advance. Go Broncos!