San Diego was downed 24-17 on the road despite last-minute efforts in the fourth quarter, which proved to be too little too late. The magical run that drew national attention came to an end in the same place it arguably started.
While the loss may sting in the hearts of most San Diego fans, the season as a whole was one of the most memorable in recent years. The Bolo ties may be going into storage for now, but something tells me this team will make another run in 2014.
For the last time this season, here are some takeaways from today's loss.
The Chargers offense had a total of five drives in the first half, three of which resulted in punts and one in a missed field goal. It didn't take a genius to see that San Diego was struggling offensively, but determining where the problem lay was difficult.
With Ryan Mathews on the sideline tending to an ankle injury, the Chargers offense produced 45 total yards in the first half. Determined to run the ball and control the clock, San Diego continued to push the running game even without its star back, and it obviously proved unsuccessful.
Philip Rivers couldn't provide a jolt either, as he managed to bring his passing total to just one yard at the end of the first half after having negative yards to start the game. Getting sacked three times didn't help the cause.
Before the game even started, San Diego was at a disadvantage with Jeromey Clary (shoulder) missing from the offensive line and Mathews (ankle) extremely limited.
But as the game wore on, the injuries started to pile up. Manti Te'o was lost in the second quarter after he took a shot to the head from teammate Jahleel Addae. Marcus Gilchrist was hit by Addae as well, but the knockout punch was a blow to the head from fellow Charger Reggie Walker. Addae ended up becoming the third victim of friendly fire when he too suffered a blow to the head from Melvin Ingram.
To top it off, Mike Scifres injured his back when making a tackle on a punt return. As the number of injuries mounted, the momentum grew in Denver's favor.
The Chargers were held scoreless through three quarters before Keenan Allen and Rivers finally turned it on in the fourth quarter—problem was, it was too late.
Allen and Rivers hooked up for two quick scores and Nick Novak hit a 30-yard field goal on the ensuing possession to cut the deficit to seven points. San Diego's defense was unable to get the ball back to the offense for a potential game-tying drive, and Rivers was left helpless on the sidelines.
With how hot the offense looked toward the end of the game, one can only imagine what they could have done with another chance.
Johnnie Troutman made nine starts at left guard for the Chargers in 2013 when Chad Rinehart went down with injuries. With Clary unable to go, the decision was made to plug Troutman in at right guard instead of shifting Rinehart over.
The second-year guard made his first start on the right side in a pivotal postseason game, and Denver exploited his inexperience. All four sacks surrendered by the Chargers came from the right side—which was essentially composed of two rookies (Troutman missed his entire rookie season with an injury).
With Von Miller not a factor in this meeting, Denver's defense was supposed to be lacking in firepower up front, but that wasn't the case at all. Former Charger Shaun Phillips provided plenty of heat, and Troutman couldn't handle the pressure. Funny thing is...Troutman was a three-year starter at left guard for Penn State.
Peyton Manning's pre-snap adjustments have been well-documented throughout the years, and nothing has changed since he became a Denver Bronco. Manning still waves his hands like a magician and yells out commands to try and confuse the defense. It worked again on Sunday.
The Chargers were whistled for five neutral-zone infractions, and all five came from different players. Penalties were a problem all game long, but the infractions are fundamentals you can't afford to forget. That's an easy five yards every time.
Mistakes and miscues will hurt your chances of winning in any game, but they can absolutely kill a team in postseason play. The Chargers made plenty of mistakes on both sides of the ball, but there a select few that stood out in key moments.
On Denver's first drive of the game, Manning sent a pass to the end zone that should have been an interception for Shareece Wright. Getting the turnover would have prevented a score and possibly shifted momentum, but Wright couldn't hang onto the pass.
Another miscue that comes to mind is Novak's missed field goal from 53 yards in the first half. Obviously, a 53-yard kick in swirling winds is no easy feat, but Novak lost his footing on the attempt and just narrowly missed. The San Diego special teams suffered another miscue when the punt team allowed Eric Decker to return a punt 47 yards (possibly a touchdown had the ground not tripped him up).
Vincent Brown's offensive pass interference call in the second half negated a first down, Gilchrist was called for pass interference on a big third down and Ladarius Green dropped a surefire first down late in the game. The list of mistakes was long, and it killed drives on offense and extended drives on defense.
Going into this game, the San Diego defense needed to generate turnovers in order to slow down Manning and get ahead on the scoreboard, but the offense failed to capitalize on two turnovers.
Donald Butler helped force a fumble in the first half that was recovered by Richard Marshall, but the ensuing drive for the Chargers ended with a missed field goal. Butler made another big play when he intercepted Manning in the end zone—while the pick did prevent a touchdown, there were just 30 seconds left in the half and no points were scored.
The defense came up with the turnovers, but the offense couldn't produce on its end.
Well, this year's version of the infamous fourth-and-long play came this postseason in the form of an incredibly easy catch on 3rd-and-17. The defense came on a third-down blitz and was within inches of bringing down Manning, but the Broncos quarterback had already let the 21-yard pass go to a surprisingly wide open Julius Thomas.
Thomas led the team with six catches for 74 yards, but none were as important as that one on third down late in the game. Had the Chargers been able to force a stop, they would have gotten the ball back and had a shot to tie up the game.