Hello folks! It's time for the AFC Championship Game edition of "Unfinished Business". I will discuss the divisional game against San Diego and take a look at another chapter of Manning vs. Brady.
Chargers - Whew! The Broncos got one of the monkeys (or gorillas?) off of their backs with a 24-17 win over the Chargers. The game started out on defense for Denver and forced Philip Rivers into a timeout and then a punt. They were unable to get a first down without a face-mask penalty to help them out. The defense netted two sacks (Jeremy Mincey and Shaun Phillips) and the rush defense was also up to the task with some solid tackling. After the punt, the Broncos took the ball and marched 86 yards in 14 plays and took just over SEVEN minutes off the clock. The drive ended with a two yard TD to Demaryius Thomas. Peyton Manning dodged a bullet with a dropped interception. He forced the ball into Wes Welker as he was triple teamed, but the defender dropped the ball.
In the second quarter, the Broncos got the ball thanks to another Charger punt, but turned the ball over thanks to a Julius Thomas fumble. The replay showed that Thomas never had total possession of the ball, but they called it a catch and fumble. At best, it needed to be incomplete. Fortunately the Chargers did nothing with the ball and their drive ended with a missed 53 yard attempt by Nick Novak. Denver took the ball over and drove it for another TD using a heavy dose of running from Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno. The offense was also assisted by a couple of neutral zone infractions. Manti Te'o was knocked out the game during that drive with his own teammate hitting him in the head on a tackle. Manning found Welker for a TD to make it 14-0. Denver's D stopped the Chargers again to force another punt. Eric Decker took the punt to the SD 30, but should have scored. I don't know if the groundskeeper tripped him up or a phantom did it or what but it still gave them great field position. The O drove the ball all the way down to the 4, but came away empty handed. On second down, Manning put a ton of pepper on the ball and threw it over everyone. Then on third down, he threw a heater to Decker only to see it bounce off of his chest and into the hands of Donald Butler for a toe dragging INT. As sickening as that play was, I was impressed with that catch. Rivers knelt down and took the game to the half.
In the third quarter, Denver took the ball down the field only to stall out at the SD 27. Thanks to a Julius Thomas penalty, the Broncos were forced to kick a FG. Matt Prater narrowly made the FG to make it 17-0. The defense forced another Charger punt and took the ball to the SD 29. Prater then proceeded to miss his next kick. After the miss, the Chargers came to life and drove 63 yards for a TD. The big play given up in that drive was a 30 yard pass to Eddie Royal.
On the kickoff, Trindon Holliday took the kickoff all the way back for a TD only having it called back thanks to Omar Bolden blocking in the back. Manning took over inside his own 20 and drove the Broncos for another score to make it 24-7. San Diego took over on the 20 and was forced to go for it on 4th and 5 at the SD 25. Rivers heaved a long ball to Keenan Allen for almost 50 yards. The play was allegedly covered by Quentin Jammer. Allen was easily five yards ahead of Jammer on the play. I don't know about you, but I had Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith nightmares when the ball was in the air. SD proceeded to score a TD and then got the ball back when Decker couldn't handle the onside kick. The Chargers drove down to cut the lead to 24-17. Denver's offense took over on the 27 only to see Zane Beadles and Chris Clark false start. Manning handed the ball to Moreno for a two yard loss and a cascade of boos from the home crowd. Manning then threw an incomplete forcing a 3rd and 17. On third down, Manning completed a pass to Julius Thomas for the first down. Orange Julius was outstanding on the catch with the back toe dragging out of bounds. After Moreno made another first down, Manning knelt down to secure the win.
Overall, the Broncos played OK and should have blown out the Chargers. Defensively, they were outstanding and forcing Rivers into hissy fits until the fourth quarter. One reason for this was the injury to Chris Harris Jr. who tore his ACL in the game. Once he was out, Rivers had an easier way with the secondary by throwing at Jammer. Fortunately the offense got the ball and made just enough plays to run out the clock. Offensively the Broncos did not need to punt, but the late INT in the first half, missed FG and the fumble killed some solid drives. Special teams were not all that great with Prater missing a FG, the hands team failing and the return game penalties kept the game closer than what they needed. Thankfully the Broncos got the win and host the AFC Championship game this Sunday. With that we now turn our attention to the next foe....the New England Patriots.
Patriots - The Pats come into Denver after destroying the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 on Saturday night. They did the most damage in the first and fourth quarters powered by four INTS by Andrew Luck and a boatload of rushing yards by LeGarrette Blount and Steven Ridley. Brady was not very effective in his passes thanks to the wind and rain but was effective on his completions. The Colts did get to within one score, but the defense gave up a 73 yard TD to Blount to put the game out of reach.
The AFC Championship is now quickly approaching and Denver is short another defended with Harris going down. This game could be a game for both teams as "pick your poison" on both sides of the ball. Since both teams can run the ball now, The DL will have to both really get fired up to stuff the run and find some way to get to Tom Brady too. When he thinks he will get hit, he ducks and curls up. Somehow the DBs will need to get tight coverage on the WRs. Since Gronk is out, the coverage will be easier, but with the limited number of backs available this will be a steep challenge. The home crowd will have to be loud and raucous to get the Pats rattled on offense. This will also be Josh McDaniels' first return to Denver so expect a cold reception from the home faithful.
Offensively, the Broncos will have to play a perfect game with minimal drops, no turnovers and rack up the first downs. Last time they played, Moreno went for over 200 yards and the defense tallied some turnovers. The WRs will have to fight hard for the ball and the OL will have to keep tabs on the Pats LBs since any of them can rush from any position. There are two scenarios that I would not be surprised if both teams try it. One, establish some ball control to wear out the defense at altitude as well as keep the other QB on the sideline and the other strategy is running a hurry-up to gas the defense. There will need to be more TDs scored on these drives and less FGs. Well, that's all I have for now. There will be many stories of hype and analysis this week. Enjoy the week and GO BRONCOS!!!