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Chargers top Broncos, start 4-1
DENVER – The sigh of relief you may have heard Sunday evening originated in the North end zone at Sports Authority Field in Denver.
A Tim Tebow pass sailed into a mass of bodies, then hit the ground, and the Chargers celebrated another close victory, 29-24.
Nick Novak made five field goals and Malcom Floyd caught a 42-yard touchdown as San Diego (4-1) emerged from a physical contest with one-game lead in the AFC West. It’s the Chargers’ best start since 2006 and allows San Diego to enter the bye week on a three-game win streak.
“A lot of things happened in that football game that made it a great game for everyone to watch,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “Our objective coming in here to Denver was to get a win. I’m excited about winning a football game.”
Nothing came easy. The ground vibrated from the crowd noise at times. The teams pushed, shoved and fought.
Down 26-10 well into the fourth quarter, Knowshon Moreno caught a 28-yard touchdown pass to get Denver (1-4) within two points. But Antoine Cason slapped away the two-point conversion intended for Brandon Lloyd. And with the seats shaking three plays later on third-and-10, Floyd chased down a 38-yard Rivers pass to set up Novak’s fifth field goal.
”If you have the confidence that when it’s the last two minutes, you’re going to get the stop, the first down or make the kick, I think it gives you a chance mentally to go win every game,” Turner said.
The Broncos got the ball back with 24 seconds left and reached San Diego’s 29, but a last-second play fell to the ground in the end zone.
“The name of the game has never changed in this league, and it’s winning,” Rivers said. “There’s no AP votes. There’s no coaches’ poll. It’s just win football games. So far, we’ve done that 80 percent of the time.”
San Diego’s quarterback helped convert the Chargers’ only touchdown in five red zone trips. Denver’s defense knocked both Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert off the field during the drive, then stuffed San Diego twice near the goal line. Rivers couldn’t find anyone open on third-and-goal.
In danger of settling for a third consecutive field goal inside of the 10, Rivers squeezed up the middle for a 2-yard rushing touchdown, ending a contentious series with an emphatic end zone spike to give the Chargers a 13-10 lead.
Rivers’ touchdown fueled San Diego during its first divisional road game of the season as the Chargers absorbed some physical blows and responded with 20 unanswered points, then did enough to sustain the lead.
Ryan Mathews rushed for a career-high 125 yards and logged his sixth consecutive game with at least 100 total yards of offense. The streak started with the only other 100-yard rushing game of his career Jan. 2 at Denver.
Floyd caught three passes for 100 yards.
The Broncos caused trouble early as Mathews and Mike Tolbert twice towed the Chargers’ offense inside the 10 during the first quarter but Denver’s defense stiffened to force Novak field goals. Cassius Vaughn returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown and Matt Prater’s lone field goal gave the Broncos a 10-6 lead in the second quarter
“I’d like to get touchdowns,” Turner said of the Chargers’ red zone offense. “We seem to have the one bad play that takes us out of position. That will be a major emphasis for us (during) these next two weeks.”
Rivers’ rush opened the spigot for San Diego, which leveraged a season-high 206 rushing yards to play keep-away from Tebow, who replaced Kyle Orton at quarterback in the second half.
Tebow rushed for a 12-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and found Moreno three minutes, 16 seconds later for the Broncos’ only offensive touchdowns. He completed just 4-of-10 passes for 79 yards, but his presence electrified the crowd and forced San Diego into a different game plan on defense.
“It’s going to all come together at some point. But honestly, I know I keep saying it, but we’re 4-1,” Rivers said. “That was the only goal we had coming in here today.”
Said Jacob Hester: “We didn’t care if (the score) was 3-2, as long as we won and fought hard.”