With the combination of Peyton Manning throwing to Emmanuel Sanders taking center stage, the Denver Broncos took control of the AFC West with a 35-21 win over the San Diego Chargers, who had everything, including the officials, going against them before and during the game.
The Chargers lost for a second time in five days, not getting time to rest since losing at home to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos were coming on a short rest as well, but unlike the Chargers, they’ve already had their bye week. San Diego needed a rest badly, but it’s bad getting to that low point in energy reserves when the next game lined up for them is playing in Denver against the Broncos, improving to 6-1 this season, including 5-0 at home.
Peyton Manning was close to flawless again with three touchdown passes and throwing for 285 yards. He opened the game with a touchdown pass to Sanders, the wide receiver’s second since joining the Broncos, and he found Sanders two more times during the game. Sanders caught nine passes for 120 yards, his fourth 100 yards or more game of the season, enjoying the extra attention the Chargers were giving Demaryius Thomas.
Thomas didn’t catch any touchdown passes but he also was difficult to slow down with 8 receptions for 105 yards. The Chargers had to deal with too many injuries in the secondary to give the Broncos a big fight and pose some sort of problem on their passing game. Unlike other performances, the ground attack was working well for the Broncos. Ronnie Hillman ran for 109 yards on 20 carries, helping set up rookie Juwan Thompson for two short-yardage scores himself.
A big turning point in the game was the overturned interception in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Peyton Manning was picked off by Eric Weddle, but a defensive holding that never really happened was called on the Chargers, giving the Broncos, leading 28-14, new life to the drive, which ended up scoring a touchdown on the next play. A Philip Rivers pass that was intercepted in the second quarter should have been ruled incomplete, but the decision on the field was upheld.
Rivers might be now heading towards a tougher stretch. He looked like the best quarterback in the NFL through the first six games, but was intercepted twice against the Broncos. He still managed to throw three touchdown passes – two of them to Antonio Gates and another to Keenan Allen but the Chargers needed a nearly flawless game from him. Even without the officials making mistakes, Rivers wasn’t good enough as the Broncos ran away with the game.
While the Broncos aren’t the only team with just one loss this season, they seem to be a cut above the rest, even if they did lose in Seattle and the Cowboys didn’t. Peyton Manning is in record breaking form, the offensive line is doing a great job of keeping him on his feet (no sacks, just one hit), the pass rush is much better with the additions made and overall this is a much faster team compared to the one that lost 43-8 in the Super Bowl.
That number is thrown around from time to time, but this is a new season and a different team. The Broncos haven’t been blowing teams out of the water, but that doesn’t guarantee playoff success. Winning, even without big numbers, is important to get home field advantage. Combine that with staying healthy and simply improving on the weaknesses that made them so vulnerable in the last game of last season, and the Broncos are on the right recipe for rectifying last year’s poor ending.