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Denver Broncos hold off Chargers to advance to AFC Championship

Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos celebrates their 24 to 17 win over the San Diego Chargers.
Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos celebrates their 24 to 17 win over the San Diego Chargers.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos weathered the storm and ended the San Diego Chargers season with a 24-17 playoff win. The Broncos survived a fourth quarter surge by the Chargers as Peyton Manning and Knowshon Moreno led the Broncos offense to the first Bronco win of the New Year.

The Broncos defense held Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to only one passing yards in the first half. The Denver defense sacked Rivers four times and held the Chargers to only 65 rushing yards on the day. Had Chris Harris not been injured, the Broncos may very well have contained the Chargers to fewer than 17 points.

For the third time this season, the Chargers held Manning and the Broncos to under 30 points. The only other keep Denver from scoring over 30 were the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 17.

Manning connected with wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker for two and three-yard scores in the first half. Matt Prater kicked a 45-yard field goal to bring the Denver lead to 17-0 by the end of the third quarter. The Broncos lead would have been greater had Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend not tripped Eric Decker on his way to the endzone off a first half punt return.

Keenan Allen of the Chargers started the fourth quarter by torching Quentin Jammer for a 16-yard touchdown. Allen added another 16-yard score over Jammer after Moreno scored Denver’s third and final touchdown.

The key to the Broncos win had to have been their third down conversions. Denver went 9-13 in their chances on third down, including a successful third-and-17 conversion to Julius Thomas to ice the game with a little over three minutes remaining in the game.

"Third-and-17, I was thinking we were definitely going to get the ball back," Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen said. "And we were feeling good on the offensive side, having the momentum. It was just unfortunate we didn't get it."

Manning ended a personal drought of three straight playoff losses. The Broncos will host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday for the AFC Championship, but they will be without cornerback Chris Harris, one of Denver’s best defensive performers of the season who tore his ACL in yesterday’s win.