The Denver Broncos knew what was at stake when they traveled to San Diego to take on the Chargers. First place was on the line, and the winner would head into the bye week feeling good about their first six games.
After turnovers and sloppy play put the Broncos down 24 points at the half, it looked like the Chargers would run away with the division and move to 4-2, sending the Broncos to a disappointing 2-4.
That didn’t happen.
Peyton Manning and Denver’s defense came roaring back to complete one of the all-time great comebacks in Monday Night Football history. The Broncos scored 35 unanswered points in the second half and are now the clear-cut favorite to win the AFC West.
The Broncos turned the ball over three times in the first half. A muffed punt and a fumbled kickoff return effectively spotted the Chargers 10 points in the first few minutes of the game. A miscommunication between Peyton Manning and Matt Willis resulted in an 80-yard interception return for another seven points.
It took two quick scores in the third quarter to erase 14 of the 17 points the Broncos had given away in the first half. Manning orchestrated an eight-play, 85-yard drive to start the third quarter to open Denver’s scoring. On the next drive, Elvis Dumervil forced Philip Rivers to fumble, and Tony Carter returned the fumble 65 yards for another touchdown, making it 24-14.
The Broncos, down by 10 points, looked like the team leading from that point forward. They forced a three-and-out thanks in large part to a sack by rookie Derek Wolfe. The Chargers moved backward four yards on the drive before punting. The Broncos would then pull within three points at the beginning of the fourth quarter thanks in large part to a third-down conversion on 3rd-and-16.
Manning was masterful in the second half with three touchdown, only registering one incomplete pass. As always, Manning spread the ball around, using Willis McGahee, Eric Decker, Joel Dreessen and Brandon Stokley effectively.
Demaryius Thomas hauled in a 29-yard strike from Manning to get Denver’s scoring spree started. Decker atoned for being tackled by a blade of grass earlier in the game on Manning’s second touchdown pass, and Stokley made an acrobatic catch of Manning’s third.
The Broncos would intercept Rivers four times in total, directly leading to two touchdowns. The nail in the coffin was when Rivers’ final interception was returned by Chris Harris 46 yards for the touchdown to put the Broncos up 35-24 with 2:15 left in the game.
The Chargers almost inexplicably kept turning the ball over and giving Manning and the Broncos additional opportunities to win the game. Rivers accounted for all six turnovers, including two fumbles and four interceptions.
Manning couldn’t do it alone, and the defense really came to play in the second half. Dumervil forced the two fumbles, Carter added an interception to his fumble-recovery touchdown and Harris picked off Rivers twice.
Once the Broncos had a lead, Von Miller went to work against right tackle Jeromey Clary and had himself a heck of a game. Champ Bailey also locked down Malcom Floyd, and only Antonio Gates could do any real damage against the Broncos.
The Broncos now head into the bye at 3-3, sitting atop the AFC West with the hardest part of the schedule over. Manning has returned to greatness, and the path to the playoffs now appears clear for the Broncos.
The Broncos can enjoy the bye week and use the extra time to clean up the return game and the communication errors that had them down 24 points in the first place.