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A miraculous fourth quarter fight -- and an equally amazing season -- came up short.
The Broncos padded their lead with an early Knowshon Moreno touchdown. But Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen connected over and over again -- and combined for two 16-yard touchdowns -- to close the fourth-quarter gap. Nick Novak launched a perfectly executed onside kick and tacked on another field goal, but the Broncos held on to win 24-17 and advance to the AFC Championship.
The Bolts scored their first points of the game on a masterful drive by Rivers. On the strength of a Rivers-to-Royal crossing route that went for 30 yards, they spanned 52 yards in the fourth quarter's first two minutes. Then, they capped the drive with an over-the-shoulder throw from Rivers to Allen for a 16-yard touchdown.
Trindon Holliday took the next kickoff back for 105 yards, but it was negated on a block in the back penalty. Instead, the Broncos offense ate up nearly five minutes on a nine-play march that pushed the game to 24-7.
That margin was short-lived, though. Facing a 4th-and-5, Allen took Quentin Jammer deep for a 49-yard bomb from Rivers. Three plays later, Allen caught another throw from Rivers and extended the ball over the goal line to make it 24-14.
Novak couldn't have hit his onside kick any better. It hit the hands of Eric Decker, but Decker was immediately leveled and put the ball on the turf. Richard Marshall came up with the ball and set the Bolts up again.
Allen got free again on a 17-yard route in scoring range and the Bolts decided to cut the game to a one-score contest. They did so with a Novak 30-yard boot, but the offense never saw the field again. The Broncos ran the ball and preserved their 24-17 victory. Read
Peyton Manning drove the Broncos with short gains on two drives. The Bolts defense held strong on both occasions.
Instead, the Broncos settled for Matt Prater field goal tries. The first one barely snuck through; the second one sailed wide left and kept the score at 17-0.
Manning moved the ball with short pickups when the Broncos received the second half kickoff. But when Manning threw deep, he couldn't connect; first, on a long pass to Eric Decker that sailed too far and later, on a third down throw down the hashmark to Wes Welker that would've been a touchdown.
Welker dropped that pass, though, so Matt Prater came out for a 45-yard try. He just ticked it inside the right goal post to extend the Broncos' lead to 17.
Keenan Allen and Philip Rivers connected on a 19-yard throw to start the Bolts' next drive. But Rivers threw behind Allen on a second down pass that was almost intercepted and Vincent Brown was flagged for offensive pass interference on the next play. On 3rd-and-18, Rivers tossed a precise pass to Ladarius Green that would've moved the chains, but it sailed right through his hands incomplete.
Again, Manning moved the ball. But after seven plays, the defense held Knowshon Moreno in check. Prater trotted out for his second field goal try and missed -- only the second time he's done so all season.
The Bolts have the ball to start the fourth quarter. Stay tuned to Chargers.com.
It's a two-score game at the half from Denver -- thanks to an amazing second quarter by Donald Butler.
Early, Butler helped deliver a big hit that caused Julius Thomas to fumble. Nick Novak missed a field goal on the ensuing drive when he slipped and the Broncos scored on a Wes Welker touchdown when they took over. But with Peyton Manning in the red zone yet again to end the half, Butler picked Manning off and miraculously stayed in bounds to keep the game at 14-0.
On the first drive of the second quarter, Julius Thomas looked like he had picked up a first down when he came up with a pass with 14:17 to play. But Butler lowered his shoulder for a big hit, and as the Broncos tight end fell to the turf, Jahleel Addae crept in for the finishing strip.
With new life, the Bolts turned to their running game. Ryan Mathews contributed three straight carries -- including an impressive 16-yard tote where he reversed his field to the left. Rivers fell on a 3rd-and-3 sack, though, and when Novak tried a 53-yarder, he slipped and misfired.
Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball carried the Broncos back into scoring range on the next drive. The duo was responsible for 49 total yards of a 57-yard scoring drive. On 3rd-and-goal, Manning faked to Moreno and rolled left; Welker came open in the flat and scored on a three-yard toss.
The Bolts picked up a first down, but punted again. Eric Decker stumbled on his way to the end zone on the return, but the humming Broncos offense still got into scoring range.
With just 35 seconds left, Butler came down with the toe-tapping pick -- Manning's first in the red zone this season. The Broncos will get the ball to start the second half.
Stay tuned to Chargers.com. Read
A near miss from Shareece Wright, and Peyton Manning capitalized.
Wright almost cradled a Manning interception with 5:38 to play in the first quarter. Instead, the Broncos continued what would be their longest scoring drive of the season -- a 14-play, seven-minute march that ended with a quick touchdown toss from Manning to Demayrius Thomas.
The Bolts struggled to protect Rivers on their opening possession. After picking up an opening first down to Ladarius Green on a crossing route, Rivers was sacked twice -- first by Jeremy Mincey, and again by Shaun Phillips after a facemask penalty gave Rivers and the offense a new set of downs.
With their ensuing possession, the Broncos drove for seven -- the third time they've mounted a touchdown drive to open the game in three meetings against the Bolts. Decker and Demayrius Thomas moved the chains with first-down catches before Manning tried to connect with Welker deep. Wright couldn't come up with the turnover, and seven plays later, Manning had his first touchdown pass.
The Bolts couldn't respond to that score. Back on offense, Danny Woodhead carried twice for three yards before a delay of game penalty set them back. On 3rd-and-12, Rivers' throw for Keenan Allen was incomplete and Scifres punted again.
The Broncos have the ball again to start the second quarter. Read
For an unprecedented third time, the Bolts and the Broncos will do battle. But this time, the stakes aren’t just AFC West bragging rights.
The Chargers (10-7) and the Broncos (13-3) will tussle to choose which team gets to play the New England Patriots for the right to appear in Super Bowl XLVIII. It’ll all be decided when toe hits leather at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium at 1:40PM PST.
Five weeks ago, Philip Rivers led his team to a 27-20 victory in Denver, and the team will look for another strong performance by the Pro Bowl passer today. He’s not alone, though; Rivers has security blankets in Danny Woodhead, the do-it-all running back, and Antonio Gates, his trusted tight end. And the Bolts have ridden two more stars – brilliant rookie Keenan Allen and power runner Ryan Mathews – to make it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
With Peyton Manning at quarterback, the Broncos have been the most statistically-prolific offense in NFL history. Manning broke league records in passing yards (5,477) and passing touchdowns (55) – the first player to set both marks in a season since Dan Marino in 1984. The four-headed receiving monster of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and tight end Julius Thomas helped Manning pad those statistics. And when Manning doesn’t drop back to throw, he can hand off to two great backs in Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball.
Stay tuned to Chargers.com for all the latest from Bolts-Broncos III. ReadRead