In case you didn’t know there was a NFL football game on last night, only one team decided to show up. The Denver Broncos lost their third game of the season 27-20 to the San Diego Chargers. Phillip Rivers and the Chargers came into Sports Authority Field eager to battle for a playoff spot while taming the potent Broncos offense with season low numbers.
The Broncos offense was held to only 295 yards and 20 points, both of which being the lowest tallies of the season. Running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball rushed only 11 times for a measly 18 yards.
"We just watched film and did a lot of walk-throughs," said Chargers cornerback Shareece Wright. "We focused a lot on watching film, and just knowing what they did to us the first game. When you play a team twice, you better be ready the second time."
The Broncos came into the game with the NFL’s best third-down efficiency, but converted only two of nine third downs last night against the Chargers. After the Broncos took an early 10-3 lead, the San Diego defense force three consecutive three-and-outs at one point, leaving the TV announcers Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock baffled by the Broncos execution.
"We didn't play well, didn't stay on the field, didn't have the ball much, and, when we did, we didn't do much with it. Give San Diego credit, they played better than we did," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said.
Not having the ball was the epitome of the Broncos loss. Denver’s defense and special teams suffered some very costly penalties that kept the ball with the Chargers offense, including a neutral-zone infraction on fourth-and-four that kept the ball with the Chargers for over eight minutes. The Chargers won the time of possession 38:49 to the Broncos 21:11.
"We didn't mention one word about time of possession this week," Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers said. "We said, 'We've got to score.' Time of possession is only important if you're scoring."
And score they did, taking the lead in the second quarter and did not relinquish it. Rivers connected with Keenan Allen for two red zone touchdowns in the second quarter; Allen’s two scores were his only two receptions of the game. Running back Ryan Matthews added 127 rushing yards and a touchdown to the Chargers tally, last night’s performance put Matthews over the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his NFL career.
"We just wanted to establish the run," Mathews said. "We've got big, good guys up front. And they were just working their tails off. And for how hard they work, you really want to succeed for them. So I was trying my best to get positive yards every play."
Rivers was not flashy in the Chargers win, but was very efficient. He threw for only 166 yards off of 12 completions, but did not give up an interception. Matthews’ steadfast running proved instrumental in the Chargers game plan against the Broncos.
Although the numerous errors and poor execution highlighted the Thursday night the Broncos were having, veteran wide receiver Andre Caldwell was the only shining star of the night for the Broncos. Filling in for a concussed Wes Welker, Manning looked to Caldwell as his go-to receiver for the night, connecting for 59 yards off six catches and scoring the Broncos only two touchdowns. Other Broncos receivers, such as Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas, had little impact in the game.
The lackluster performance by the Broncos points to fatigue from the short turnaround from their last game. The Broncos put up 51 points from 91 offensive plays against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday and seemed to not have brought their energy into Thursday night’s game against the Chargers. The Chargers also came into last night’s matchup with the equal amount of short rest, seemingly far more prepared than the Broncos.
Last night’s loss marks the first time of the Peyton Manning era where the Broncos lost to an AFC West opponent. At 7-7, the Chargers are in the hunt for the AFC’s final wild-card berth, but aren’t guaranteed a playoff spot even if they win their final two games against the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs.
"We know that we need help,” Rivers said about the playoff hopes. “We obviously know that we have to win the next two, and then we need some help. But we've just got to keep it one game at a time, and enjoy the heck out of the turn we've made. And see if we can keep it going."
The Broncos have already clinched a playoff spot, but their seeding in the upcoming playoffs has yet to be determined. If the Broncos finish the 2013 season with the same record as the Chiefs and New England Patriots, Denver will be placed as the second seed. The Broncos beat the Chiefs twice, owning the tiebreaker for the division, but do not own a tiebreaker over the Patriots, as they lost in Foxboro 34-31 on Nov. 24.
The final two games for the Broncos are on the road against the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders, who own a combined record of 6-20. Manning and the Broncos will have 10 days to prepare for their matchup against the Texans at Reliant Stadium.