At Sports Authority Field in Denver, in front of a national audience, the Chargers did what many thought was impossible.
They beat the 11-2 Broncos, 27-20, giving Denver its first home defeat and its first loss to an AFC West team this season … and, actually, Peyton Manning's first loss to an AFC West team since coming to Denver.
The Broncos scored on their opening drive, marching 67 yards -- pretty much untouched by the Chargers defense -- to put seven early points on the board.
The Chargers were able to score on their opening drive, too, but with a 38-yard field goal by kicker Nick Novak.
The Broncos scored on their second drive (field goal), and so did the Chargers (touchdown pass from Rivers to rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen) to tie the game. It looked like it was the beginning of a shootout -- expected for this game -- but then the Chargers defense went on a tear, getting three consecutive three-and-outs on the Broncos.
San Diego had good field position to run the clock in their second-to-last drive before halftime, and they did. Rivers connected with Allen for the second touchdown of the game (giving Allen four touchdowns in five days, as he had two against the New York Giants as well) and the Chargers took the lead going into halftime, 17-10.
The Broncos had no first downs in the second quarter, and only 15 rushing yards in the first half.
The Chargers had the ball to start the second half and capitalized on it with a Ryan Mathews rushing touchdown to bring the score to 24-10, San Diego.
Mathews continued his strong season with 29 carries for 127 yards tonight. This was the fifth time this year that he rushed for more than 100 yards in a game.
An out-of-bounds kick by Nick Novak gave the Broncos field position at their 40 to start their opening drive of the second half, but Manning was shut out again after four plays.
A clutch challenge by Chargers head coach Mike McCoy (twelve men on the field for the Broncos) gave San Diego a new set of downs, as did a neutral infraction on a punt from their end zone. Although they didn't score, the Chargers were able to hold onto the ball for eight minutes of a drive that was never supposed to be theirs, giving them good time of possession and maintaining a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter.
The Broncos finally got their offense going at the beginning of the fourth quarter, marching 89 yards in just over six minutes to score on a five-yard pass from Manning to Andre Caldwell.
Pressure by Corey Liuget and an interception by Thomas Keiser gave San Diego the ball back with five minutes left to play, and a 35-yard field goal by Nick Novak made it a two-score game with under three minutes to play.
The Broncos did enough to get a field goal, but couldn't get the onside kick. The Chargers kneeled on their next set of downs and, in winning the game, kept their playoff chances alive.