The San Diego Chargers' chances of making the playoffs were surprisingly slim, considering they were just one game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the No. 6 seed in the AFC coming into Week 15. The Chargers knew they needed to win every game to have a chance, starting in Denver on Thursday night against the juggernaut Broncos.
Even with a suspect defense, and despite several questionable coaching decisions, the Chargers powered their way to a 27-20 victory on the back of quarterback Philip Rivers. If the Chargers do make the playoffs, it will be because of their resurgent quarterback, who is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career.
Although they may not be in control of their own destiny, the Chargers put themselves in a good position heading into the final two weeks with their big win in the final installment of Thursday Night Football. Unlike their competition for the final playoff spot, the Chargers only have home games left.
The Ravens have a brutal schedule that includes trips to Detroit and Cincinnati and a home game against the New England Patriots. The Miami Dolphins are, well, the Dolphins, so even though they play two of the final three at home, somehow they will screw it up.
If the Chargers make the playoffs they could make some noise, because they have proven several times this season that they can play with the best teams in the league. The Chargers have wins over the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys. The Chargers also only lost to the Bengals by seven points.
A big reason the Chargers have been able to compete with the best is because they have one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Rivers’ 12-of-20 passing performance and 166 yards Thursday against the Broncos doesn’t accurately represent his importance to the team.
First, Rivers hit rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen for a 19-yard touchdown with the Chargers trailing 10-3 to tie the game, matching Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning score-for-score early in the game. Rivers then took advantage of a rare stop of the Broncos’ prolific offense with another touchdown pass to Allen that put the Broncos up by a touchdown just before halftime.
The Chargers took the opening drive of the third quarter in for a touchdown to take a 24-10 lead, a pivotal moment in the game. On that drive, Rivers threw a perfect pass to wideout Vincent Brown over the outstretched arms of rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster for a 32-yard gain which set up Ryan Mathews’ 23-yard rushing touchdown.
What was the biggest play in the Chargers' victory?
From there, the Chargers more or less milked the clock, but a few coaching decisions nearly cost them the game. First, midway through the fourth quarter and the score now 24-17, Mathews was stuffed for two-yard loss, bringing up 4th-and-3.
With a chance to go up by 10 points with under six minutes left in the game, the Chargers punted instead of kicking the field goal from the Denver 37. In the thin Denver air, a 54-yard field-goal attempt may have been a better decision.
The New York Times' 4th Down Bot said it was a good decision by head coach Mike McCoy, but it measures the success rate of the field at just 45 percent. As we know, the odds of hitting a long field goal in Denver are significantly higher than anywhere else, while the odds of Peyton Manning and the Broncos tying the game were good.
Punter Mike Scifres saved the day, pinning the Broncos inside the 5-yard line despite fumbling the snap. The Broncos quickly moved the ball, but the much-maligned defense made a play. Defensive end Corey Liuget hit Manning as he threw and outside linebacker Thomas Keiser intercepted the pass that basically sealed the victory.
This time around, the defense and in-game coaching decisions didn’t blow it for the Chargers. McCoy has Rivers to thank for building a lead that took away play action from the Broncos’ offensive attack. In a tighter contest, things could have turned out differently.
Like his counterpart in Denver, as long as Rivers is healthy, the Chargers are going to have a chance to win the game. If the Chargers win the final two games to give themselves a shot at the postseason, the team will have the resurgent Rivers to thank.