The Denver Broncos defeat their rivals in the Chargers for the first time in the playoffs, 24-17. The Bolts did a nice job making this game interesting, after trailing 24-7 with 8:12 left in the game. They scored a touchdown and then recovered an onside kick to bring the score to 24-17, but overall the Broncos really dominated this game from the first quarter. Their defense completely shut the Chargers passing attack down through the first three quarters and that is really what won Denver the game. Their suddenly stingy pass defense came a bit of a surprise, as the team has struggled to defend the pass at times this year. At any rate, the mares did a nice job at overcoming their third game this season where they were held to less than 400 total yards of offense (all against the Chargers).
San Diego had Denver right where they wanted them in this game; they held the Broncos to just 363 total yards of offense and 24 points. If you had told Mike McCoy prior to the game that the defense was going to do the job that well for four quarters, he would have been ecstatic. Unfortunately for the road team, their offense was more eclectic than electric for the better part of three quarters, and it was mainly due to poor pass protection. Denver was hitting home on three-man-rushes and Philip Rivers was not being afforded a lot of time to scan the field. I thought that D.J. Fluker and Jeremy Clary had poor games in protection. Guys were shooting up the gut and getting immediate pressure in his face and, let’s face it, Rivers isn’t going to be using his athleticism to run away from defenders, so he was dead to rights most of the time. His receivers also didn’t help him out all that much. There were a couple of dropped passes and incomplete routes on the afternoon. Until Keenan Allen caught fire in the fourth quarter, the receivers were not able to create much separation from the Denver corners and there were not a whole lot of places to go with the football. My hat goes off to the Broncos for tightening up their pass defense and remaining solid in the run defense. They really allowed the Chargers almost nothing in the way of rushing yards. Of course, Ryan Mathews only played a half in this game, but still San Diego only managed 65 yards on the ground and the team went an abysmal 4/12 on third down. They were unable to sustain drives in this game, and that was what ultimately cost the team the game.
Peyton Manning was pretty good in this game, and it was because his protection was very, very good. Manning had all day to sit in the pocket at times (partially due to the fact that the Chargers brought a three man rush on many of their defensive plays), and he really frustrated the Bolts with his hard count in this game. He forced the defensive line to jump into the neutral zone five times in this one, accounting for 35 free yards in penalties. That, above anything else, was the biggest Achilles heel for San Diego. By the end of the game, they had a real chance to tie it up when the defense had the Broncos in a third and 17 situation from their own 20 with 3:06 left in the game. The Bolts decided to play a soft zone and Julius Thomas found the open area and sat along the sidelines for a 21 yard reception. Then, with 2:12 left and a third and six from the Denver 45, Manning found Julius Thomas for a nine yard completion and a first down. From that point on Knowshon Moreno ran for a first down and the game became academic.
Now the Broncos gear up for Tom Brady and the suddenly run-happy New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game next Sunday at 3:00 (e.t.). If their defense can hold its water like they did this week in the running game and play good enough pass defense they should not have much of a problem next week. Of course this is all a big IF, as we all know that playing well one week does not mean that you will play well the next. Either way it should be interesting to see what happens since the Broncos now have built some confidence and Peyton Manning has his first playoff victory since 2009. San Diego did give Denver a bit of a scare at the end of this one, but in all reality the Broncos had this game in their back-pocket for most of the game, mainly due to a great defensive performance and some timely play by Peyton Manning.