Despite a history that stretches back to the 1960 inaugural season of the American Football League, this rivalry may well be remembered most for Denver's incredible comeback win in the 2012 season that kick-started the Broncos' eleven-game winning streak. Denver holds an overall advantage in the series record but only recently has Denver gotten back onto a winning track when it comes to playing the Chargers, going 3-2 in the their last five meetings.
The first of those five meetings saw San Diego continue a pattern of dominance. Since the 2005 season, the Chargers had seven out of the teams' previous nine meetings. This game took place in Denver on Week 17 of the 2010 season. By this time in the season, Denver had jettisoned head coach Josh McDaniels and quarterback Tim Tebow was making his third consecutive start. Fans were briefly hopeful when the Broncos held a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Chargers, however, had other ideas scoring 16 second quarter points for a 16-7 halftime lead. San Diego extended that lead to 26-7 in the third quarter before the Broncos saw the end zone again. A fourth quarter touchdown put the game out of reach at 33-14, despite Denver rallying for two touchdowns -- a 97-yard kick return by Cassius Vaughn and a 6-yard run by Tebow.
The teams next met in Denver on Week 5 of the 2011 season. The Chargers took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter before Vaughn burned them again -- this time with a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown. The teams exchanged field goals to leave Denver with a 10-6 lead in the second quarter. Then San Diego scored 17 unanswered points for a 23-10 halftime lead. The Chargers extended that lead to 26-10 in the fourth quarter before Denver made a serious push, scoring twice in a three minute span to cut the deficit to 26-24. San Diego added a field goal with 28 seconds left to force Denver to move for a touchdown. Tebow moved the Broncos from their own 20-yard line to the Chargers' 29-yard line on two plays but a last ditch pass with 0:01 left on the clock fell incomplete leaving San Diego with a 29-24 victory.
The second meeting in 2011 took place in San Diego on Week 12. This was a close fought affair that ended up going into overtime. Initially, it looked like San Diego would continue its pattern of winning by taking a 10-0 lead before the Broncos were able to muster a scoring drive. The Chargers extended their lead to 13-7 in the third quarter but Denver battled back to make the score 13-10 at the end of three quarters. Trailing by three points, the Broncos got the ball back on their own 26-yard line with 5:27 to play in the game. A combination of Willis McGahee runs and Tim Tebow passes and runs moved the ball to the San Diego 10-yard line with 1:38 left in the game. The drive stalled, but Matt Prater was able to kick a game-tying field goal. The Chargers were not able to move into scoring position, so the game moved into overtime. In the extra quarter, Denver punted twice and the Chargers once before San Diego was able to put together a potential scoring drive. With 2:36 left in the overtime, the Chargers lined up for a field goal from Denver's 35-yard line. San Diego kicker Nick Novak missed the attempt, giving the Broncos one last chance. Denver took over on their own 43-yard line. An incomplete Tebow pass, three Tebow runs and a McGahee run gave the Broncos the ball at the San Diego 17-yard line with 1:17 left in the overtime. Matt Prater hit a 37-yard field goal with 33 seconds left to win the game.
The 2012 season saw the Broncos face off against the Chargers in San Diego on Week 6, but this time Peyton Manning was running the offense. Manning had gotten off to a rough start going 2-3 in his first five games as a Bronco. The game looked like it was going to be another rough outing as the Chargers built up a 24-0 lead by halftime. San Diego was aided by a Denver fumble on a kickoff and when Matthew Willis failed to realize that Manning was in trouble and break off his route. The result was an 80-yard interception return. The second half, however, belonged to Manning. He led the Broncos on an 85-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession of the second half. Elvis Dumervil forced a Philip Rivers fumble on San Diego's next possession. Tony Carter scooped up the ball and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown that cut the Chargers lead to 24-14. Manning followed a San Diego punt with a drive that ran out the final 2:47 of the third quarter and led to a Denver touchdown with 13:40 left in the fourth quarter. Denver now trailed by just three at 24-21. The next Chargers drive ended in an interception. Manning capitalized by leading the Broncos on a 5-play, 50-yard touchdown drive to give Denver its first lead at 28-24. A second Rivers interception killed San Diego's next drive. The Chargers had one more chance when they got the ball at their own 14-yard line with 3:52 left in the game following a Denver punt. San Diego was moving the ball well when Rivers threw his third interception of the quarter. Chris Harris returned this interception 46 yards for a touchdown that put the game out of reach. The Chargers did try to valiantly rally but Dumervil forced Rivers to fumble on a sack with 52 seconds left in the game. Mike Adams recovered the ball for Denver effectively ending the game.
The most recent between these division rivals took place on Week 11 of the 2012 season. San Diego came into the game looking erase the embarrassing memory of losing after holding a 24-point halftime lead in their first meeting with the Broncos. Initially it looked as though they would get their wish when Eric Weddle returned the interception of a Manning pass 23 yards for a touchdown midway through the first quarter. Manning was not to be denied however, leading the Broncos on a touchdown drive to open the second quarter. An interception of Rivers on San Diego's next possession led to a Broncos field goal and gave Denver a 10-7 lead. A blocked punt later in the second quarter gave Denver a short field and Manning made use of that to give the Broncos a 17-7 halftime lead. In the second half, the Chargers forced a safety by tackling Manning in his own end zone to cut the deficit to 17-9. Manning made Rivers pay for a fumble that was returned to the San Diego 25-yard line by throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker to give Denver a 24-9 lead. Rivers and the Chargers did not give up, however, mounting a touchdown drive of their own to cut the Denver lead to 24-16. The Broncos extended their lead to 27-16 on a 30-yard field goal by Matt Prater in the fourth quarter, then added another field goal to make it 30-16. San Diego added another touchdown to bring themselves within a touchdown at 30-23 with 1:24 left in the game. An onside kick attempt failed and the Broncos were able to run the clock down to 0:23. An Elvis Dumervil sack of Rivers at the San Diego 17-yard line killed the Chargers' hopes of a comeback.
Overall, Denver is 57-48-1 in the regular season versus the Chargers and have not met in the postseason. How do you like their chances in November and December?