The Chargers (8-8) won four in a row, and became the first team to start 4-8 and make the playoffs. The 52 points was the most the Chargers scored since December 8, 1985, when they scored 54 in a victory over the Steelers.
The Chargers received the ball first, and Phillip Rivers led San Diego on a six-play 60-yard drive. Vincent Jackson started the drive by gaining 17 yards on a reverse to the San Diego 47. On second down and 20 from the Chargers own 37, Rivers threw an incomplete pass to Jackson. However, Nate Webster was called for pass interference that gave the Chargers a first down at the Broncos 11.
The Denver defense was able to stop the Chargers and Nate Kaeding kicked a 28-yard field to give San Diego a 3-0 lead.
The Broncos answered back on their first possession. Jay Cutler picked up a first down with a 16-yard completion to Tony Scheffler at the Broncos 40. Tatum Bell picked up another first down with a three-yard run to the San Diego 48. Brandon Stokley caught a 15-yard pass that gave the Broncos a first down at the San Diego 35.
Bell finished off the drive with a 26-yard run up the middle giving Denver their only lead of the game at 6-3. Matt Prater missed the extra point.
The Chargers would only need eight plays to go 73 yards. Rivers completed two passes including a 37-yard pass to Jackson that gave the Chargers a first down at the Denver 26. Rivers picked up another first down with a two-yard run on third-and-one from the Denver 17.
The Chargers gained more yards when D.J. Williams was called for unnecessary roughness, giving them a first down at the eight-yard-line. Tomlinson gave the Chargers the lead for good with a one-yard touchdown run making it 10-6.
After Denver had to punt, the Chargers got the ball at their own 28. Rivers led San Diego on an eight-play 72-yard drive. The drive started with a 34-yard pass to Antonio Gates, which moved the ball to the Denver 38.
Tomlinson picked up another first down with a 12-yard run. Rivers finished the drive completing four-of-five passes for 24 yards. Brandon Manumaleuna caught a 12-yard touchdown pass to extend San Diego’s lead to 17-6.
After the Broncos had to punt again, San Diego went on a nine-play drive that took over six minutes. The Chargers went 58 yards with Rivers throwing for 48 yards on three completions. Tomlinson finished the drives with a four-yard touchdown giving San Diego a 24-6 lead.
The Broncos managed to get back in the game in the second half but only for a short time. Cutler completed his first four passes of the second half for 36 yards. Bell got his second touchdown with a 37-yard run that decreased San Diego’s lead to 24-13.
The Chargers answered back faster than a bolt of lightning. On second down and six from their own 35, Tomlinson gained 45 yards to the Denver 20. Rivers would put the Chargers back up by 18 with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles.
It wouldn’t take long for the Chargers to strike again. Cutler’s pass was intercepted by Luis Castillo giving San Diego the ball at the Denver 14. Tomlinson scored his third touchdown on a 14-yard run that gave San Diego a 38-13 lead in the third quarter.
Tomlinson rushed for 96 yards on 14 carries and scored three touchdowns; he finished the season with 1,110 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. However, Tomlinson left in the second half with an abdominal strain. Sproles had 14 carries for 115 yards and scored one touchdown.
Rivers had another strong performance; he completed 15-of-20 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Entering the game, Rivers led the league in touchdown passes and quarterback rating. Rivers finished the season with 4,009 yards passing and broke the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season with 34.
Chris Chambers and Gates led the Chargers with three receptions each. Chambers had 50 yards and Gates had 49. Gates left the game in the first half with a bad ankle. Jackson also added 47 yards on two receptions.
The Broncos (8-8) lost their third in a row to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season. Denver had the opportunity to clinch the division in their two previous games. The last time the Broncos went three seasons without playoffs was 1980-1982 when Red Miller and Dan Reeves were the head coaches.
In addition, Denver became the first team to have first place in their division all season and not make the playoffs after losing their last game. The 52 points was the most the Broncos allowed since their 55-10 defeat in Super Bowl XXIV to the San Francisco 49ers.
Cutler was not able to get into a rhythm passing due to the pressure and coverage of the Chargers defense. Cutler completed 33-of-49 passes for 316 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. He finished the season with 4,526 yards passing, 25 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. The 4,526 yards passing is a franchise best beating Jake Plummer’s record of 4,089 yards.
Bell had eight carries for 86 yards, 63 of them coming on two touchdown runs. Bell was signed mid-season due to the Broncos injuries at running back, and had 249 yards on 44 carries with two touchdowns.
Eddie Royal led the Broncos in receptions with 11 for 76 yards. Royal finished his rookie season with 91 receptions for 980 yards and five touchdowns. Scheffler had five receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown. Scheffler had 40 receptions for 645 yards and two touchdowns this season. Brandon Marshall had six receptions for 55 yards. Marshall finished the season with 1,265 yards on 104 receptions and six touchdowns.
The Chargers will host the Indianapolis Colts (12-4) on Saturday in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.