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Chargers Last Ditch Effort Not Enough to Salvage Season
The Broncos won the opening coin toss and deferred, bringing the Charges offense up first. On a quick 3rd-and-2 to start the game, Philip Rivers hit Ladarius Green for five yards and a first down. Two plays later on second down, Rivers was sacked by Jeremy Mincy. It looked like the Bolts would have to punt, but Danny Woodhead was brought down by a facemask on Malik Johnson, giving the Chargers a new set of downs at midfield. Unfortunately, Rivers was sacked on second down bringing up a 3rd-and-16 in which Rivers threw incomplete for Ronnie Brown. Mike Scifres hit a booming low 51-yard punt that the Chargers covered well, and Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense took over at their own 14-yard line. After a run stuff by Corey Liuget and an incomplete pass, the Broncos faced 3rd-and-9. On the play, Manning hit his tight end Julius Thomas for a first down up to the 32. A pass to Eric Decker brought them up to the 44, and a quick strike to Demaryius Thomas put the home team into Broncos territory. Manning then hit Andre Caldwell to the 29-yard line, and three plays later on 3rd-and-2, Monte Ball ran up the gut for a first down. Eventually the Broncos had 1st-and-goal from the three yard line, and on second down Manning hit Demaryius Thomas for a two-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. On the Bolts next drive they faced an immediate 3rd-and-13 in which a Rivers pass to Keenan Allen was broken up. Scifres punted a 51-yard blast that was returned to the Denver 42-yard line. The Broncos faced a 2nd-and-3 as the quarter came to a close.
Faced with a 3rd-and-2, Manning hit Demaryius Thomas, and it was initially called that Jahleel Addae stripped him and Richard Marshall recovered it. The call was reviewed and stood as called, giving the Bolts the ball at their own 44-yard line. Two plays later, Ryan Mathews broke free for a gritty 16-yard run into Denver territory. After a Mathews and Woodhead run, the Bolts faced a 3rd-and-3 and Rivers was sacked, bringing up a 53-yard field goal attempt. Unfortunately, Novak slipped as he kicked it and the ball went short and wide left, setting the Broncos up at their own 43-yard line. On first down Knowshon Moreno was called for an illegal pick for pass interference, giving Denver a 1st-and-20. A screen to Moreno caught the yardage needed in half followed by a neutral zone infraction on Jarret Johnson to give them a 2nd-and 3. Moreno then burst through the hole to the Bolts 39-yard line, and Ball then came in and moved it up near the red zone. Another penalty and strong run gave Denver 1st-and-goal from the eight yard line. On 3rd-and-3, Manning rolled left and connected with Wes Welker for a 14-0 lead. Back with the ball, Rivers hit Woodhead twice for a first down. Faced three plays later with a 3rd-and-6, Rivers pass for Eddie Royal fell incomplete and once again Scifres had to punt. It was a low 43-yard punt but unfortunately Eric Decker returned it 47 yards to the San Diego 30-yard line. On 3rd-and-1, Melvin Ingram jumped off sides, giving the Broncos a first down. Eventually the Broncos had 3rd-and-goal from the four yard line, and after the ball got deflected by Darrell Stuckey out of the arms of Decker, Donald Butler corralled the ball and toe-tapped his way in bounds for a crucial interception. The Bolts took a knee and the score heading into halftime was 14-0.
The Broncos began the second half at their own 36, and on 3rd-and-1, Moreno moved the pile for a first down near midfield. Another pass to Demaryius Thomas moved the ball into San Diego territory, and three plays later on 3rd-and-1, Welker caught a ball along the left sideline for a first down. This time presented with 3rd-and-11 following a false start, Welker couldn’t haul in a reception near the goal line, bringing out Matt Prater who hit a 45-yard field goal for a 17-0 advantage. With their first possession of the second half, the Bolts faced an immediate 3rd-and-3, Keenan Allen hauled in a reception and turned up field for a 19-yard gain. Faced with another third down, this time needing eight yards, Rivers found Ronnie Brown for a first down but the play was called back for offensive pass interference on Vincent Brown. On 3rd-and-18, Rivers' pass for Green went through the tight ends hands and Scifres’ 62-yard punt trickled over the goal line for a touchback. Manning’s first pass went to Decker for 19 yards to the Denver 39-yard line. Ball then moved the Broncos into San Diego territory with a burst up the middle. Eventually the Broncos had a 3rd-and-2, and Kendall Reyes stuffed Moreno for a one-yard loss. Prater than came on to attempt a 47-yard field goal, but it was wide left and the deficit remained 17. The quarter came to an end with the Bolts facing a 3rd-and-4.
On the first play of the fourth, Rivers hit Royal for a 30-yard gain to move it to Denver’s 27-yard line. A penalty on Denver moved it up to the 22-yard line.
Donald Butler and Jahleel Addae combined to force a big fumble on the second play of the second quarter. The Bolts got it into field goal range, but Nick Novak’s plant leg slipped as he kicked a 53-yarder then ended up falling short and wide left. The Broncos responded with a touchdown to Wes Welker to give them a 14 point lead. They enjoyed a minimum of a two score advantage for the vast majority of the game as the Bolts weren’t able to finish off a furious fourth quarter rally.
It was Over When…
The Chargers battled back to make it a one score game, and looked to get the ball back with just over three minutes to go in the game as they forced the Broncos into a 3rd-and-17. Unfrotunately, a miscommunication on defense led to Julius Thomas becoming wide open, and Peyton Manning found his tight end for a 21 yard gain. From there the Broncos were able to churn out two more first downs while bleeding the clock until it struck zeros.
Play of the Game
It looked like the Broncos were destined to go up by three scores at the end of the first half, but Darrell Stuckey and Donald Butler combined for a huge defensive play to end the second quarter. Stuckey got his hand into Eric Decker’s chest in the back of the end zone, popping the ball in the air. Butler then grabbed it and did a tremendous job to keep both toes in bounds for the interception.
Stat of the Game
The Broncos outgained the Chargers 363 yards to 259.
“We got beat in all three phases at different times of the game. Against a very good football team they played better. We got off to a poor start. The character of our football team showed up as time moved along. The players came out fighting to the very bitter end, but it wasn’t good enough to win.” – Head Coach Mike McCoy
“You never know how long it is going to take to turn an organization around. To get the right guys in and to get the spirit and mentality the right way, and the hard work and toughness and to do it in one year and to make it to the second round of the playoffs, it’s awesome. To keep a healthy perspective on it this locker room got tighter. We have a lot to look forward to. We’re heading in the right direction. We have a bright future and a ton to look forward to.” – Center Nick Hardwick
“When I think of this team I’ll always remember that we just fought. We had a tough resolve. A lot of people counted us out when we lost a couple early ones that we shouldn’t have, but our whole mentality was to get to the playoffs no matter what it took. I think it showed these last few weeks of the season. For us to be 5-7 and then win the last four games of the regular season and win a playoff game, that was big. Even today we started off slow. We were down to the Broncos 17-0 in the fourth quarter and we fought to get back into this thing. I think it showed a lot about the character of this football team. I think the upside for this team is very high.”- Running Back Ronnie Brown
“We definitely weren’t happy with everything we did in the first half. Coming out in the second half we knew they had success running the ball and that we must stop the run. We put more emphasis on that and we stopped them on first and second down to the point where we can get pressure on third down. We tried to get some sparks going but it wasn’t enough because we still weren’t as good on third down as we had been. A lot of that was the quick passes, but we’re definitely not happy with that performance.” – Outside Linebacker Thomas Keiser
“I think we came a long way from where we started from. Just being able to put it together and find our teams character to see what we can do when we put it all together, I think we proved a lot of people wrong. We showed a lot of character.” – Wide Receiver Keenan Allen
“You know, we played hard. We made it in, but it’s not about just making it in. All the guys played their butts off and played hard. It definitely showed the type of character and type of heart we have on this team.” – Defensive End Kendall Reyes
Odds and Ends
Philip Rivers finished 18 of 27 for 217 yards and two touchdowns for a 115.8 passer rating.
Danny Woodhead led all rushers with nine carries for 29 yards.
Keenan Allen paced all receivers with six catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
Jahleel Addae led the team with eight tackles.
The Broncos outgained the Chargers 363 yards to 259.
Denver rushed for 133 yards while the Bolts only had 65.
San Diego was just 4-of-12 on third down (33%) while the Broncos were 9-of-13 (69%).
For the first time in three meetings, the Broncos dominated time of possession, controlling the clock for 35:27 to 24:33.