The Chargers went to Denver to try and salvage some of their season by making things tough on the Broncos. Their long-time rivals had a chance to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over a team that has just four wins.
Give the Bolts credit. They sure made the Broncos earn it.
Denver won a tight one 27-20 at Sports Authority Field. It looked an awful lot like the Bolts would get blown out early.
On the second play of the game Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler hit wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for a short gain. Chargers defensive back Greg Ducre misplayed it about as much as a play can be misplayed and Thomas weaved his way for a 72-yard touchdown.
But after that Denver’s offense seemed intent on keeping the Bolts in the game by turning the ball over incessantly. On their second possession Osweiler hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 46-yard gain but defensive back Stevie Williams hit Sanders from behind to force a fumble, which Sanders recovered.
On their third possession Osweiler put one on the hands of wideout Bennie Fowler, who couldn’t make the grab and it landed in the arms of Williams for an interception.
On their fourth possession Osweiler was sacked by Williams. The ball came loose and defensive tackle Damion Square recovered it. Williams forcing three turnovers on three straight possessions has got to be some kind of record.
Denver punted and then on their sixth possession Melvin Ingram hit Osweiler as he threw and the ball floated to safety Adrian Phillips for another interception, the fourth time the Broncos turned it over in the half. The problem is the Bolts were only able to muster 27 total yards and three points off those four turnovers.
However, the Broncos kept up their giving ways in the second half and finally the Bolts were able to capitalize on it. Running back C.J. Anderson was stripped of the ball by linebacker Manti Te’o and Jahleel Addae recovered at the Denver 32 yard line. Five plays later Philip Rivers hit Antonio Gates for a 13-yard touchdown to put the Bolts up 13-7.
That’s when Peyton Manning happened. Active for the first time in six weeks, Manning (who was out with a foot injury) came in and his presence seemed to give the Broncos a lift. On his first drive he only threw two times, completing them both for 20 yards, but the offensive line started opening up massive holes in the running game.
C.J. Anderson ripped off runs of 27 and 18 yards before scoring from the one to give the Broncos a 14-13 lead.
Denver kicked a field goal to make it 17-13 but on the very next play Rivers hit undrafted rookie free agent Tyrell Williams, who was wide open down the seam for an 80-yard touchdown, the first reception of Williams’ NFL career, to put the Bolts back on top 20-17.
The Broncos kicked a field goal to tie it at 20 and the teams exchanged punts. Then the Chargers made the one mistake they could not afford to make. Rivers threw a pass just a bit too tall for Williams. It tipped off his hands and was intercepted by Shiloh Keo. On the next play former Aztec star Ronnie Hillman went 23 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The Chargers fall to 4-12 while the Broncos move to 12-4 and will have home field advantage in the playoffs.