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Broncos-Chargers: What we learned

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SAN DIEGO — Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning didn’t feel so hot before Sunday’s game with the San Diego Chargers.

Afterward, the Chargers felt lousy.

Manning ignored flu-like symptoms to lift the Broncos past San Diego, 22-10, as Denver clinched its fourth straight AFC West title.

That’s one championship for every IV Manning had leading up to the game.

“I had a rough (Saturday) night,” said Manning, who was 14 of 20 for 233 yards. “I’m not going to lie.”

But with Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas making six catches for 123 yards, including grabbing Manning’s lone touchdown pass, Denver easily completed its season sweep of the Chargers in winning its fourth consecutive game.

The Chargers’ December fade continues as they lost their second straight. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers completed 24 of 41 passes for 232 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions.

San Diego’s hopes of making the playoffs in consecutive years took a blow. San Diego (8-6) entered the game in position for AFC’s No. 6 seed and final playoff berth.

But just like the previous week against the New England Patriots, they were no match for the AFC’s top-shelf squads.

“That is a good football team,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “You can’t give them that many opportunities.”

San Diego pulled within 16-10 with 10 minutes remaining on tight end Antonio Gates’ 5-yard touchdown catch on a Rivers pass. Gates joined the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski as the only tight ends in NFL history to have 10 touchdown receptions in four seasons.

What the Broncos said:

“What a lot of people don’t understand is our second string is just as good as our first string. It’s all about 11 guys playing together. It’s not a one-man show.” — LB DeMarcus Ware, about the defense overcoming injuries.

What the Chargers said:

“If you saw a lot more guys open, let me know.” — QB Philip Rivers, on why the team’s passing game is struggling so much.

What we learned about the Broncos:

1. Even when quarterback Peyton Manning is under the weather, the Broncos offense has enough firepower to win. Manning, suffering flu-like symptoms, did throw for a score and didn’t turn the ball over. But he was just as content, for the fourth straight week, to lean on the running game. C.J. Anderson managed a game-high 85 yards on 29 carries. Not a huge game, but enough to compensate for Manning not feeling so hot. In the last four games, all wins, the Broncos have rushed for 201, 214, 133 and 111 on Sunday.

2. The Broncos defense gets its props, usually, from the pass-rushing tandem of linebacker Von Miller (13 sacks) and defensive end DeMarcus Ware (10). But don’t overlook the run defense as it held the Chargers to 56 rushing yards, with the longest run being 11 yards. In a game where the Broncos didn’t have a sack, four linebackers each had four tackles.

–LT Ryan Clady (thigh) exited the game in the first half and didn’t return. He was replaced by Chris Clark and Clark held up well. Clady was compromised during the game and allowed a sack by Melvin Ingram.

–WLB Brandon Marshall left the contest with a foot injury and didn’t return.

–QB Peyton Manning extended his NFL record for most seasons with 4,000 yards passing to 14 in the first half.

What we learned about the Chargers:

1. This is a different team without running back Ryan Mathews. With the Chargers’ top running back unable to go with an ankle injury, San Diego had no balance to its offense. It managed but 56 rushing yards as Branden Oliver, an undrafted rookie, was asked to carry a bigger load and his production was tepid. Mathews was a big reason why the Chargers won four straight to end last year as no one rushed for more yards in the month than Mathews.

2. Just because an offense reaches the red zone, that doesn’t mean the Chargers are feeling blue. They’ve flipped what was a problem earlier in the year by turning into a solid red-zone team. On three consecutive series, the Chargers penetrated the red zone, having possessions at the Chargers 1-, 8- and 1-yard lines. But all three times some solid play by the secondary, in particular, forced the Broncos to settle for field goals. “Defense in the red zone is something that we have made into a plus for us,” safety Eric Weddle said. “The first half of the year we were awful at red-zone defense and now I would like to think that we are one of the top teams in the second half of the season. We are keeping ourselves in games.”

–P Mat McBriar made his debut as he replaces Mike Scifres. Scifres suffered a separated shoulder in last week’s game. McBriar, an Aussie, is a two-time Pro Bowler, but he hadn’t punted this year until being called recently by the Chargers. McBriar’s mentor who helped start his NFL career is Darren Bennett, another Aussie who is on the Chargers’ all-time team. McBriar averaged 49.8 yards on four punts.

–ILB Donald Butler left the game in the first half with an elbow injury. There were reports that he dislocated it, but coach Mike McCoy declined to confirm that. Butler is the team’s second-leading tackler.

–S Jahleel Addae continues to impress as he gets more playing time. Addae had several teeth-rattling hits and was the Chargers’ leading tackler with nine tackles, seven solo.


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