How do you beat the Denver Broncos?
In Denver's previous losses this season, in a lot of ways, it felt like the Broncos beat themselves. Costly turnovers. Blown leads.
On Thursday night, the San Diego Chargers came into Denver and flat-out beat the Broncos. They drew the blueprint, and then they executed it.
Long drives. Big runs. A huge time of possession advantage (38:49 to 21:11), and one key interception of Peyton Manning.
Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, and Ryan Mathews kept Peyton Manning off the field by staying on it, with the Broncos defense incapable of making any plays against San Diego's offense, and the Chargers went on to beat the Broncos 27-20 in Week 15.
The first half started as one might expect, given the teams entering the game. The Denver Broncos, 1st in the league in red zone offense, marched straight down the field for a touchdown. Peyton Manning found Andre Caldwell in the end zone to give the Broncos a 7-0 lead. The San Diego Chargers, 22nd in red zone offense but with a very efficient quarterback in Philip Rivers, nearly matched the Broncos play-for-play, but their first drive ended in a field goal.
The Chargers knew they couldn't trade field goals vs. touchdowns against the Broncos, and they were able to adjust against that knowledge.
After a Broncos field goal made it 10-3 Broncos, Philip Rivers twice found his favorite target of 2013 for touchdowns - rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen. Allen hurdled over Broncos defenders into the end zone for his first score, then was able to beat rookie Kayvon Webster with just over a minute to play in the second half for a hard-fought touchdown that gave the Chargers a 14-0 run.
Meanwhile, San Diego's defense was able to stifle the Broncos' offense, sacking Peyton Manning for the first time in 126 dropbacks and disrupting Denver's potent running game. The Broncos failed to register a first down in the second quarter, going three-and-out three straight times, and the two teams entered halftime with a surprising score: Chargers 17, Broncos 10.
The bleeding continued for the Broncos, as the Chargers received the second half kickoff and executed another long drive. The Broncos defense, soft and often confused, proved susceptible against both the pass and run. Rivers continued to target rookie Kayvon Webster with success, but when Ryan Mathews took a handoff 23 yards from the end zone, there was no excuse for the number of orange jerseys who simply failed to make the tackle. Mathews trotted into the end zone to make it 21 straight points for San Diego, and giving the Chargers a 24-10 lead.
The most important factor in San Diego's three touchdown drives? The length of the drives. The Chargers marched down 75, 43, and 80 yards on 12, 7, and 8 plays, eating up nearly a quarter of game clock on those three drives alone that kept Manning and the Broncos offense benched.
In the fourth quarter, the Broncos were able to put together a response, with Manning again hitting Bubba Caldwell for a touchdown, but without a defensive stop the offense's struggles left Denver hopeless. Broncos 17, Chargers 24.
Then Denver's defense finally made its stop. The Broncos forced the crucial punt, down one score, with Peyton Manning at quarterback. 5:50 left. Down seven. 97 yards to go.
No problem, right?
Unless the offensive line's struggles continue.
Chargers defender Corey Liuget split the double team of Chris Clark and Zane Beadles to hit Manning, forcing an interception. The Chargers' interception of Manning was the first turnover of the game, but it was the difference-maker, as the excellent field position gave the Chargers an easy field goal. Chargers 27, Broncos 17,
Manning's last minute comeback fell short - a Matt Prater field goal and botched onside kick were all that would come of it - and the Broncos ended up losing to the San Diego Chargers at home, Broncos 20, Chargers 27.