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Broncos 24, Chargers 17: Playoff Game Balls

As always, when the Broncos win, the MHR Staff gives out Game Balls!

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Giving out a Game Ball is sweet. Giving a Playoff Game Ball is even sweeter. The MHR Staff is excited to deliver this tasty goodness to our readers following Denver's thorough 24-17 victory over San Diego in the playoffs.

Today the staff is feeling a bit like Oprah - You get a Game Ball, and you get a Game Ball, and you get a Game Ball - which just goes to show how the Broncos played well across the board.

Julius Thomas

A year ago today, Bronco Country was agonizing over a Ronnie Hillman run on third and long. "Why do you run it on third and long when you have Peyton Freaking Manning?!" That was the collective cry heard in the 303 area code. This year, history almost repeated itself.

With three minutes left in the game and the Chargers armed with two timeouts, the Broncos faced a seemingly impossible 3rd and 17. With all of the momentum shifting in the Chargers' direction, it looked like the defense was going to have to head back on the field once more. Until Julius Thomas showed us all what the offense was missing last year. Somehow, wide open, Thomas reeled in the deep catch with a wide receiver like toe drag that left chance for a challenge. Then again, just two possessions later, Thomas caught another crucial third down ball. This brought his total to four third down completions, on a day where time of possession was absolutely critical.

Special players make special plays on special days. Julius Thomas sure is special, and we are lucky to have him here in Denver. - Mr. East

Peyton Manning

I do not give a hoot about the narrative of Peyton Manning's playoff history. Without him, the Denver Broncos lose that game. His command of the offense and football acumen pays dividends on every play. The mistakes that are made are almost always made by one of the other guys who either made the wrong decision or didn't make the play. My anxiety level morphed into a migraine that nearly ruined the experience for me, but once I saw that victory formation I gave a massive sigh of relief. One demon has been exorcised, now its time to face Broncos fans (and Manning's) arch nemesis in Tom Brady. Win or lose, Manning with his 55 touchdowns and 5500 yards passing gives our favorite team the best chance to win. Bar none. Go Broncos! - Tim Lynch

John Fox and Adam Gase

One year ago, John Fox and then-offensive coordinator Mike McCoy faced a very similar situation to the 4th quarter lead the Broncos enjoyed this time around: up a touchdown, with the football and four minutes to win the game.

A year ago, the Broncos ran the ball six consecutive times. Even on 3rd and 6, they infamously ran the football last year. The Broncos failed to convert, and a Rahim Moore gaffe later, the Broncos found themselves in overtime. At the time, after the loss, John Fox was asked if he would change that plan of attack. He said he wouldn't.

Sly like a Fox.

This time, in the same situation, the Broncos threw to convert 3rd and 17. The Broncos threw to convert 3rd and 6. They leaned on their strength: the passing game and Peyton Manning. Bravo, Coach Fox and Coach Gase, and a particular hat tip to Gase for focusing on Denver's playoff run instead of head coaching opportunities. - Monty

Defensive Line

The Broncos front 4 were able to stuff the run and create constant pressure all game. Who would have thought that sans Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, that a bunch of guys named Phillips, Jackson, Mincey would combine for a franchise playoff record 4 sacks? The pressure was constant and it was hard for Phillip Rivers to find a rhythm until it was too little too late. - Bronco Mike

Offensive Line

The offensive line deserves a game ball as the unsung heroes of the game. While the defense's shutting down the Chargers' offense and the play of Peyton Manning took center stage, Chris Clark, Zane Beadles, Manuel Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin quietly went about the work of keeping Manning upright long enough to complete 25 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns, opening holes so Knowshon Moreno could gain 82 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and Montee Ball could add 52 more yards on 10 carries. I may be off on this, but I only recall seeing Manning on the ground once today -- if I'm in error, blame it on being ecstatic over the win. The offensive line did a great job throughout most of the game of moving the defensive front of the Chargers backward and clearing large amounts of space around Manning on passing plays. All-in-all, they did what they were supposed to do and did it extremely well. - Brian Shrout

Jeremy Mincey

When the Broncos signed defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey in mid-December, I expected him to see little to no playing time this season. Against the Chargers, Mincey recorded two tackles and a sack while rotating all around Denver's front seven-just weeks after being released by the Jaguars and picked up by Denver. The only known Broncos defensive linemanwith his own theme song, Mincey came up big in just his third game active for Denver. Mincey-and Denver's entire front seven-is getting hot at just the right time. - Jon Heath

Chris Harris Jr.

Harris is arguably the Broncos best cornerback this year. He and DRC definitely give the Broncos a top 1 or 2 cornerback tandem in the entire NFL (shut it Seattle!). So why is Harris getting my gameball? Easy. It's the number zero. That's right, zero points were scored by the Chargers before he went out of the game with knee and ankle injuries. After he left, boom, boom, boom. Score, score, score. With Chris Harris, the Broncos defense completely smothered and suffocated the Chargers offense, and without him, most of us were starting to remember last year's divisional game with 4 minutes to go. Here's to you Chris Harris Jr. I hope you get back on the field soon. The Broncos and us fans need you! - Big Pete

Champ Bailey

Champ Bailey in what may have been his first real game back Bailey spent the game much like he has spent most of his career-- invisible. Invisible, because he did his job and covered his man, all while quietly leading the Broncos in tackles. There were two major player differences between the San Diego loss and this game one was Wes Welker and the other was Bailey. Denver's defense has only gotten better since the loss of Von Miller and it would be easy to point to the fact that the Broncos played the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders to end the season, but the Chargers were fifth in the NFL in total offense, fourth in passing and 13th in rushing. Denver's defense is currently the top rated defense in the post season for total defense, fourth in passing and first in rushing. Nothing could be better with the New England Patriots coming to Denver this week after they put up 234 yards on the ground Saturday. - Ian Henson

Running Game

To win in January you need to run the ball successfully, and that's what the Broncos did Sunday. The Broncos ran the ball 33 times for 134 yards. That comes out to be about 4 yards per carry. Not great, but solid average. Knowshon Moreno was huge once again. Converting crucial 3rd and shorts, and was solid in goal line situations. Rookie Montee Ball was the best back out there Sunday in my opinion. He rushed the ball 10 times for 52 yards. This running game will have to be huge going forward. Bring it New England! - Scotty Payne

Broncos Fans

Woody Paige implored Broncos fans to bring it Sunday, and you brought it. Philip Rivers' priceless whiny GIFs will live in Internet infamy for eternity, and Broncos fans are the reason he threw his tantrums to begin with. Sports Authority Field at Mile High was uproarious most of the game, and that environment also contributed to San Diego's foolhardy five neutral zone infraction penalties. The fans were also, impressively, whisper-quiet when Peyton Manning and company were on the field on crucial third downs. Smart, passionate fans played a big role in Sunday's win. Let's see it again in the AFC Championship Game. - Monty

Honorable Mentions

Shaun Phillips deserves a game ball for his two-sack performance against his former team... Terrance Knighton, the new leader of the Broncos defense, had a great game, and the defensive effort overall can be contributed in many ways to him (check out his pregame speech too)... Robert Ayers, for capturing Philip Rivers perfectly.

Your Game Ball

Who gets your Game Ball for Sunday's AFC Divisional Playoff win?