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Broncos Chargers final score: Broncos beat Chargers 24-17 to advance to AFC Championship Game

Broncos win! The Denver Broncos advance to the AFC Championship Game after a 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Ezra Shaw

It's the kind of play winners in the postseason make, and losers don't.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos offense made it three times.

With three minutes to play, only up one score, the Broncos faced two 3rd crucial third downs - downs with distances of 17 and 6 yards respectively. Julius Thomas and Peyton Manning delivered the conversions on both. The play of the game was Manning's 21-yard strike to Thomas, a redemptive, game-saving play after a game that saw Julius Thomas fumble and suffer drops.

It was a game where the Broncos nearly blew two 17-points leads in the fourth quarter to a Chargers team that got hot behind Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen. A successful onside kick attempt by the Chargers gave San Diego life late in a contest where the Broncos failed to execute on several opportunities.

The late slide notwithstanding, the Broncos won. They advance to the AFC Championship Game, where they will host the New England Patriots on Sunday, January 19, 2014.

First Quarter

Chargers received the opening kick and immediately felt Denver defenders in their collective faces. Two sacks in eight plays - the first by an unblocked Jeremy Mincey, the second by former Charger Shaun Phillips - left Rivers uneasy early, and it showed. The Chargers faced two consecutive 3rd-and-longs - they converted the first only due to a Malik Jackson facemask penalty - and ultimately succumbed to the pressure.

On Denver's first drive, they took a page straight out of San Diego's gameplan from Week 15: Keep away from Philip Rivers with a long, clock-killing drive. Manning was 6-of-8 for 64 yds with a 137.5 passer rating on the opening drive. Four different players caught passes, led by Demaryius Thomas' three and supplemented by crucial runs by Montee Ball led Peyton Manning to hit Demaryius Thomas in the front of the end zone for a Broncos touchdown.

Second Quarter

Two plays into the second quarter, the Broncos surrendered their first turnover: a Julius Thomas fumble. The defense bailed them out when Malik Jackson registered Denver's third sack on Philip Rivers. On the field goal attempt, Chargers kicker Nick Novak sailed it WIDE LEFT to keep Denver's shut out going.

On the subsequent drive, the Broncos put it even further away. With six straight running plays leading the way, Wes Welker hauled in a Peyton Manning pass to make it Broncos 14, Chargers 0. That would be the score heading into halftime.

"The biggest difference early in the game was the defense was getting them off the field, and we were able to stay on the field," Peyton Manning said.

Third Quarter

Broncos 24, Chargers 17

The Broncos' roll continued, although it slowed slightly. Trindon Holliday set the Broncos up with a big kickoff return to the 36-yard line. Manning and company drove 37 yards in 12 plays (eating up over five minutes of game clock) to set up a Matt Prater 45-year field goal. Prater's attempt was good, making the score Broncos 17 - Chargers 0.

The Chargers' struggles continued, punting once and then getting called for their fourth and fifth neutral zone infraction penalty on Denver's last drive of the quarter.

The Broncos continued to let the Chargers hang around though, with Matt Prater failing to convert a 47-yard kick. With Chris Harris Jr. going down with knee and ankle injuries, the stage was set for a San Diego comeback...

Fourth Quarter

Yes, the fourth quarter, in which the San Diego Chargers stormed back and nearly gave Broncos Country a heart attack.

The Broncos felt the loss of Chris Harris early in the fourth quarter, as the Chargers finally got on the scoreboard. Rivers found Keenan Allen against an overmatched Quentin Jammer in the end zone for a touchdown, making it Chargers 7 - Broncos 17, and giving everyone a ball game.

The Broncos responded right back with a touchdown of their own - an 87-yard drive topped off by a two-yard Knowshon Moreno run. The score made it Broncos 24 - Chargers 7 with 8:12 to play. That should have made the game out of reach, right?

Not if the Chargers continue to find a wide-open Keenan Allen, then recover the onside kick. That's exactly what would happen.

After not registering a single reception through the game's first three quarters, Allen came up huge late in the fourth quarter. The rookie wide receiver finished with six catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns, but none were as big as his 4th and 5 catch. On the crucial play, Rivers found Allen for an all-too-familiar 49-yard gain against a Broncos DB in single coverage - this time Quentin Jammer - and gave the Chargers life. San Diego and Allen would go on to score a touchdown to make it Chargers 14, Broncos 24.

On the subsequent onside kick, Eric Decker failed to haul it in, which led to a Chargers field goal. Chargers 17, Broncos 24 with 3:53 to play.

Four-minute drill time. The Broncos, mostly behind Peyton Manning's never-say-die throws, converted three third downs to clinch the win.

Final Thoughts

The Broncos didn't punt, not once, but they only scored 24 points. Many missed opportunities are to blame (Eric Decker's trip on a punt return; Trindon Holliday's kickoff return TD being called back for an unnecessary block-in-the-back; six dropped passes, most for first downs).

"We let some plays out there," Peyton Manning admitted. "But San Diego's a heck of a football team.... We knew it would be a 60-minute game."

The Broncos beat the Chargers because the defense came to play, and they are more talented on offense than San Diego's defense could handle. However, they did not execute to their potential - not nearly. Among all other three teams remaining - the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Patriots - the talent gap is not longer as wide as it was against the Chargers. The Broncos will not be able to beat any of these times without executing better than they did Sunday night.

But the Broncos won this week. Enjoy it for a day, Broncos Country, before we get ready for the Patriots!