SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 10: Ryan Matthews #24 of the San Diego Chargers runs the ball against the Denver Broncos during their game on November 10, 2013 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Three points, when there's an opportunity for seven, will not win a football game.
Especially against an offense that leads the league in yards per game.
The Chargers experienced that firsthand, as missed opportunities in the red zone led to field goals that, simply, were not enough to win against the high-powered Denver Broncos Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
"We knew how important it was this week to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals," said quarterback Philip Rivers after the game. "If we could have scored a couple of times in those early drives, we would have been in better shape late in the game."
With Peyton Manning at the helm, the Broncos scored four touchdowns, three in the first half. Although the Chargers controlled the time of possession, they struggled in the red zone, an area that's plagued them all season.
"It's definitely frustrating," said wide receiver Keenan Allen. "You want to score, and you need to score, and it just doesn't happen."
A timely sack by Chargers linebacker Tourek Williams led to a fumble by Manning in the third quarter, which was recovered by linebacker Donald Butler and brought in for a touchdown a few plays later by running back Danny Woodhead. It was the Chargers' first touchdown of the game. They would end with two, the second coming in the fourth quarter, on a rushing touchdown from the 1-yard line by Ryan Mathews.
"I was happy I was able to spark it up just a little bit and we ended up scoring one," Williams said. "It was a good play, but once you lose the game, no matter how many big plays you made, once you lose the game it doesn't mean much."
Linebacker Larry English also had a sack on Manning.
The Chargers offensive line once again showed its versatility, as players shifted to compensate for the loss of left tackle King Dunlap (concussion) and center Nick Hardwick (stinger). Right tackle DJ Fluked moved to left tackle, Jeromey Clary to right tackle and Chad Rinehard to right guard.
"It's the same thing we've been doing all year," Clary said. "Coach has put us in different positions. We were ready for it."
The Chargers threw some trickery into the game early with a fake punt. Safety Eric Weddle pushed through the line for the first down, keeping the drive alive, although the Chargers were unable to squeeze out a score. Running back Ryan Mathews had a 39-yard run to get into the red zone, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty on tight end John Phillips.
"I just wanted to help the team," Weddle said. "The guys in the huddle, they knew, we'd been eager to run something the last few weeks, just haven't got the looks.
"I feel like I can get one yard on anyone, and if I can't, I shouldn't be in there. We didn't end up scoring, but we at least got some energy and keep the drive going."
The Broncos put points on the board on their first drive with a three-play, 85-yard drive that took under a minute and culminated in a 49-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peyton Manning to wide receiver Julius Thomas.
At the end of the first quarter, the Broncos time of possession was 0:57; the Chargers,14:03.
Kicker Nick Novak made two field goals in the first half but on the third one, missed.
Manning would go on to score two more touchdowns in the first half (the second, taking less than 90 seconds). Denver got the ball to open up the second half and again scored a touchdown, this time on a pass from Manning to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
The Chargers defense was able to hold the Broncos to 14 unanswered points in the second half and forced the Broncos to three-and-outs on multiple drives.
"They did everything that we planned for," said linebacker Manti Te'o. "We just didn't execute the way we should have on certain plays. It definitely showed in the second half, the corrections on execution."
For the second time this season, cornerback Derek Cox was benched, replaced by Richard Marshall. Cox later returned to the game.
Fullback Le'Ron McClain left the game with an ankle injury, left tackle King Dunlap left with a concussion, and linebacker Larry English left with a biceps injury.