Broncos Pull The Plug On Chargers' Magic
By Daniel Calzone
Just when everybody was questioning the Denver defense, they answered the call with a resounding 24-17 victory over the Chargers. They played extremely well for three quarters and showed the world that they are not as big of a liability as some believe that they are. San Diego failed to put points on the board until the 13:03 mark of the fourth quarter. The Broncos held Phillip Rivers in check for most of the game and put an end to the Chargers improbable playoff run. With two weeks remaining in the regular season they had just a 1.58% chance of even making the postseason, let alone advancing to the Divisional round. All week, everyone was talking about Manning’s less than stellar postseason track record and Denver’s inept defense. Peyton made game winning plays and the defense stepped up huge and showed that they might just be good enough to win a championship.
Until the fourth quarter that is, when the defense revisited their lackluster ways and Philip Rivers decided to start looking like a Pro Bowler again. The Chargers scored all 17 of their points in the fourth quarter and finally started to come to life. Unfortunately for Chargers fans, it was too little too late. The Chargers kicked a field goal to make it 24-17 with 3:56 remaining in the game. They just needed to prevent the Broncos from putting together a multiple first down drive and they would have a chance to try and go down the field and tie the game with a touchdown. The defense failed to make the big play it needed to make, and allowed Peyton and the running game to milk the final seconds of the divisional round battle.
Who was supposed to be guarding Julius Thomas on that third-and-17 conversion late in the fourth quarter? San Diego’s secondary made a huge mistake when both safeties stayed true in the seam and allowed Julius Thomas to sneak 20 yards down the sideline. Manning escaped a viscous pass rush, stepped up in the pocket and threw one of his most important passes of the entire season. The Charger’s defense simply couldn’t stop the Broncos when it mattered most on the final time draining drive of the game. Within one score, they just needed to prevent the Broncos from converting on third down on three separate occasions. They couldn’t do it. Peyton was clutch down the home stretch, and at least momentarily silenced his postseason naysayers.
The Broncos were committed to running the ball throughout. Moreno carried the ball 23 times and Ball carried 10 times. They averaged 3.9 yards per carry as a team and showed superb balance on offense. Manning threw 36 times to 33 running plays. That is the kind of balance this offense is going to need in order to beat the Patriots next week.
The Broncos did what they were expected to do in this divisional round matchup. They were heavy favorites in this game and absolutely dominated the first three quarters. I think we can attribute some of those quick Chargers scoring drives late in the game to the passive defensive scheme being run by Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio late in the game. Next week will be an entirely different story. They won’t be heavily favored against a Tom Brady led team that has been on a huge roll as of late. It is no secret that Manning has struggled to compile head to head victories against Brady and I think we can expect a classic in the AFC title game next week.
For the Chargers, it was a great season, one they prolonged for as long as they possibly could. They have a lot of talented young players and I think we will see them competing for a playoff spot again next season. Major legacy points will be on the line next week when the Pats battle the Broncos. When the playoffs began, this was the matchup everyone was hoping for in the AFC’s final game of the season. Ask and you shall receive.