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Bolts Defense Masters Critical Plays in Win
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More hugs and accolades soon followed when Thomas Keiser came down with his sliding interception, all well deserved. On a short week, it's no small task to get to Peyton Manning, the quarterback renowned for his preparation. But that's exactly what Pagano and his defense did on Thursday night.
"Getting after the quarterback, which was huge for us," said Mike McCoy. "Guys made critical plays at critical times in the game and it paid off for us."
Each play helped to ice Manning and the league's top offense. Long before Keiser picked Manning off, Shareece Wright made a huge third down tip that saved a long pass play from connecting.
As the ball rolled incomplete, Wright got to his feet and wagged his finger in disapproval. Wright, like the other Chargers, wasn't going to allow the same big plays that dragged the Bolts down in their last meeting against Manning.
“We held Denver to 28 points in the first game, and two touchdowns were off bonehead plays by us,” said safety Eric Weddle. “If we make them drive 80 yards and execute on defense, we felt like it could be a low-scoring game like it was. You still have to go out and execute and play at a high level, but guys went out there and took the right approach.”
It showed when Manning got the ball back in his hands again. He threw two short passes but wanted more when he dropped back to pass a third time. Looking downfield on third down, he never saw Marcus Gilchrist turn the corner until it was too late.
Manning hadn't been sacked in 126 attempts until that one. More importantly, the Broncos had to punt from their own two-yard line, and the Bolts had time and field position on their side when they mounted a touchdown-scoring drive to end the half.
The Broncos went three-and-out to end the half. In nine plays, they moved backward a yard and gained no first downs.
This, a week after they posted their third 50-point game of the season.
“We were fresh, we weren’t tired at all,” said linebacker Manti Te’o. “We’re always talking, even when we’re on the sideline we’re constantly talking about what we can do, what to prepare for on the next drive and then when we went out there we did what we talked about and executed.”
The big plays kept coming in the second half. Te'o wrangled down Knowshon Moreno in the open field to prevent the Broncos from moving the chains on second down. On the next play, Wright forced another punt by tipping away a pass for Eric Decker.
Manning and the Broncos elevated their play with a touchdown, but the Bolts matched them step-for-step. When Manning threatened to tie the game with a first-down pass with 5:17 to go, Pagano's squad ended their comeback.
Manning shuffled left with Gilchrist closing in, and that played right into the rush from Corey Luiget. Liuget knocked into Manning as he threw and immediately whipped his head around to see where the errant pass would land.
After a long-arching flight, it landed right in the arms of Keiser.
“I dropped back into coverage, and I could tell Peyton was looking for a receiver and he was flushed out to the right,” Keiser said. “When he did, I was just trying to watch him. Corey was able to hit his arm, and the ball was the only thing I could see. I planted and slipped a little bit, but I was just waiting for that ball to finally fall into my hands.”
It was no coincidence. Pagano had his players in the right position against Manning all night, and when it paid off with Manning’s pick, he earned several of those well-deserved bear hugs. Read