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Chargers Ride Broncos Into Sunset

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    NEWSLETTERS

    For Philip Rivers, the Chargers' 33-28 win Sunday was the beginning of San Diego's revival.

    The four-time defending AFC West champs were dethroned a week ago and considered this game as a springboard to a better, more healthy 2011.
         
    Rivers brought that up to rookie tailback Ryan Mathews, who took the message to heart. He rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns in a breakout performance following a season marred by injuries and inconsistency.
         
    Just what Rivers and the Chargers (9-7) had envisioned out of Mathews when he was drafted with the 12th overall pick.
         
    "I mentioned to him, 'Hey, this is the first game for next year. Let's do something we can build on,"' Rivers said. "He's going to be a great runner for us, a great player for us. When you're a rookie ... a lot is being asked of you."
         
    Mathews has struggled at times with pass protection and holding onto the football, a plight that spilled into the game Sunday when he fumbled twice, though neither was recovered by the Broncos (4-12).
         
    "I can't put the ball on the ground, especially if I'm getting that many carries. I can't do that," Mathews lamented. "I still have a lot to work on."
         
    Denver QB Tim Tebow is in the same boat.
         
    However, since he stepped in for the final three games, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Florida has breathed some life into a franchise that was struggling both on and off the field.
         
    He rallied the Broncos to a 24-23 win over Houston last weekend, and nearly pulled off another comeback Sunday.
         
    After falling behind 33-14 midway through the fourth, undrafted rookie Cassius Vaughn ignited the Broncos when he returned the kickoff 97 yards for a TD.
         
    Soon after, Tebow orchestrated a 92-yard drive that he capped off by scoring from 6 yards out with 26 seconds remaining.
         
    Richard Quinn recovered Steven Hauschka's onside kick and the smattering of fans who remained began to chant Tebow's name.
         
    But safety Eric Weddle tipped Tebow's first desperation pass through the end zone, and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Donald Strickland batted the ball down at the goal line as the clock expired to preserve the win.
         
    "He's a fighter," Cason said of Tebow. "He has extreme heart."
         
    Tebow has instantly galvanized an anxious fan base, becoming a favorite since stepping under center for Kyle Orton. His mechanics may not be perfect, and he still has work to do with his pocket awareness, but his teammates admire his moxie.
         
    Tebow completed less than 50 percent of his passes, but he rushed for a team-leading 94 yards, including a 30-yard scramble in the third quarter that kept a drive going and set up his 6-yard TD pass to fellow rookie Eric Decker.
         
    "In the short time he's been on the field, you can see a grit and determination there," Brian Dawkins said. "When you have an individual that's going to fight and scrap for every yard, that's someone that guys can hitch their caboose to and move forward with."
         
    The Broncos face a tumultuous offseason after losing a dozen games for the first time in team history. The makeover begins with the return of Hall of Famer John Elway, who is expected to rejoin the franchise by midweek as its chief football executive, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The AP.
         
    Elway's first order of business will be deciding on a new leader. Josh McDaniels was fired Dec. 6 in the wake of a videotape scandal, a host of personnel mistakes and poor play on the field.
         
    Interim coach Eric Studesville will be interviewed for the job after going 1-3 over the final month.
         
    Asked why he would make a good candidate for the position, Studesville responded: "I am going to wait until that question is asked [in a formal interview].... It has been a tremendous honor to be here for the last four weeks."
         
    Despite missing the playoffs, Norv Turner's job appears safe in San Diego.
         
    That's certainly welcome news to Rivers.
         
    "To me, that was a no-brainer," Rivers said. "That was the easiest decision to make. Norv and the staff, they're the right group of guys to get this team where it wants to go.
         
    "We stubbed our toe this year, fell short. ... Sometimes, years like this, you may not think so now, but maybe we'll look back and say, 'Hey this year made us better.' You don't want to admit it, but sometimes it takes seasons like this as a whole to get you back on the right path."

    Tim Tebow may have actually helped the Broncos more by failing to engineer another fourth-quarter comeback.

    When the rookie quarterback's two last-gasp passes were knocked down near the goal line, the Broncos secured the No. 2 overall pick of the draft, which will aid in their rebuilding from a franchise-record 12 losses.