The Denver Broncos took a 14-point lead into the locker room after the first half of their AFC divisional playoff game against the San Diego Chargers. Peyton Manning looked like an unstoppable force as he led the Broncos down the field on drive after drive, while the Chargers couldn’t muster either a good defense or much offense.
Manning passed for 100 yards and two touchdowns, ran the ball for 79 yards, and drew the Chargers offside three times, once to convert a third down.
The only bright spot for San Diego was an end-zone interception which stopped a third TD with 35 seconds left in the half.
The AFC playoff matchup between the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers is a meeting of Denver’s No. 1-ranked offense and the Chargers’ No. 23-ranked defense.
The game was also a meeting of two major quarterbacks: San Diego’s Phillip Rivers against Denver’s Peyton Manning, who had a record-setting regular season—the most yards passing (5,477) for the most touchdowns (55.)
The Chargers’ offense isn’t weak—it is rated fifth in the league—and the Bronco’s 19th-ranked defense doesn’t have a lot to brag about, but Denver’s defense won’t need to defend much if Peyton Manning does his thing.
However—the San Diego Chargers are the only team which beat Denver in Mile-High Stadium all season. They know it can be done.
However, they didn’t start out doing it.
San Francisco struggled on its first drive, saved from going three-and-out only by a facemask penalty, with Phillip Rivers suffering two sacks.
The Broncos came out charging, riding Peyton Manning’s arm to a series of first downs resulting in a touchdown. The drive was not so much effortless as inexorable—the Chargers made Manning work for it, but they could not stop the Broncos.
The Chargers’ second drive didn’t go much better; Rivers took a delay-of-game penalty leading to third-and-12 when the center didn’t hear the snap call, and Rivers’ next pass was incomplete, for a three-and-out.
The Chargers got a break on the next series. They lined up three blitzers on manning’s right and forced the Denver QB to unload quickly to tight end Julius Thomas, who was hit immediately by two Chargers. Thomas coughed up the ball, and after review San Diego was given the ball on its own 44.
Denver had a hard time containing the Chargers’ running game with Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead making good gains, but the Broncos pass defense was perfect; Phillip Rivers was sacked for a third time as all his receivers were covered.
The Chargers tried a 53-yard field goal but kicker Nick Novak slipped at the moment of impact and the kick fell short, leaving San Diego empty-handed after they had been handed a gift by the turnover.
The Broncos switched to their ground game next, ripping off a series of healthy runs from Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno while the Chargers tried to cover both the run and the pass. A pair of neutral zone infractions by San Diego didn’t hurt the Denver attack.
This was the veteran Manning in action—he knew how to shout out a snap count to fool a defensive line and when to pound away with the running game to set up passes later—like the three-yard TD toss to Wes Welker.
This twelve-play, five minute drive saw Manning pass for twice for 15 yards and hand off six times for 42, and again had that air of inevitability.
The Chargers were down 14 with six minutes left in the half, and apparently no idea of how to succeed. After five plays the Chargers had to punt again, and to keep the pro-Broncos theme going, Eric Decker ran it back to the Chargers’ 30.
The Broncos marched downfield to the Chargers’ four-yard-line, but this time San Diego held fast, as Donald Butler snagged a pass bouncing off of the chest of Eric Decker. This limited the San Diego deficit to two touchdowns; the team will have to devise something exceedingly potent during halftime to counter Manning and the Broncos in the second half.