As is the case in a few playoff games every season, the San Diego Chargers got in a few good shots against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, but it was a case of too little too late. In the second half, the Chargers went toe to toe with Denver and were able to outplay them more often than not, but NFL games are 60 minutes long, and the Chargers were slow out of the gate.
It’s that slow start that will be at the center of so many discussions in the coming week. The Chargers clearly wanted to come into the game and get settled down before opening the offense up for Philip Rivers, but by the time that offense began to come out of its shell, the Broncos had a 14-point head start.
A lot of credit for holding down the Broncos in the second half will be given to San Diego’s defensive unit. They caught a break late in the first half by intercepting a deflected red zone throw from Peyton Manning, and in the third quarter, the Chargers surrendered just one field goal. Despite what can only be described as a gutsy effort from the Chargers’ defense, their offense couldn’t respond until the fourth quarter.
The unsung heroes of Denver’s home win over their divisional rivals is without doubt the Broncos’ own defense. Jack Del Rio’s group held the Chargers scoreless through three quarters of play, and although San Diego was able to pull within a touchdown of tying the game, the Broncos were able to keep them from moving the ball at will.
In sixteen regular season games, the Broncos had only scored fewer than 27 points in a game once, a 27 to 20 loss to the Chargers in week 15 in Denver. The Broncos’ defense almost never has to help support their offensive unit, in fact it’s usually the other way around, but in Sunday night’s game, the Broncos’ defense put them in position to win, and the offense did just enough to get the job done.
If the Broncos take anything away from their close shave with the Chargers, it needs to be that they have to take better care of the football when they host New England in the AFC championship game. Although their turnovers didn’t bite them in the end, against a better offense such as the one featured by the Patriots, those turnovers will almost always turn into points for the opposing team.
The Chargers have a very different takeaway message after being knocked out of contention by the Broncos. Rivers proved that he’s still an upper tier quarterback. He may not be on the same level as Tom Brady or Manning, but with more weapons around him, he can continue to lead the Chargers into the playoffs moving forward. Going into the season, he was San Diego’s biggest question mark, and although their season ultimately ended in disappointment, at least they know they have an answer at the most important position in the game.