Qualcomm Stadium looked a lot like Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Week 13, covered in orange-clad Denver Broncos fans that gave Brock Osweiler and company something close to home field advantage. The Broncos took advantage, marching for a touchdown on the first drive of the game, enjoying a pick-six shortly thereafter to improve to 14-0, then never relenting. The Broncos won their NFL-record 15th straight divisional road game in defeating the San Diego Chargers 17-3 in Week 13, improving to 10-2 and putting pressure on the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC's first seed.
Osweiler played solid, but the real story was Denver's defense, which was smothering and turnover-happy. Philip Rivers was pressured consistently and coughed up a first half interception; two additional fumbles by Chargers ballcarriers kept Denver in firm control. Von Miller enjoyed two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery; Malik Jackson's pressure forced Rivers' interception, and he had two other passes defensed at the line of scrimmage.
The Chargers won the toss and deferred, so Brock Osweiler and company had the ball first. They marched straight down the field for the game's first touchdown, boosted by a C.J. Anderson 22-yard run and two big Demaryius Thomas catches (including the touchdown grab).
A brilliant drive ends in a 3-yard Demaryius TD catch ... some well-conceived plays, playfake boots, an offset I formation with a FB.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) December 6, 2015
Two Chargers players were knocked out of the game in the first quarter, adding more wounded names to what was already a MASH unit of an NFL team. Wide receiver Dontrelle Inman was stretchered and carted off the field after a helmet-to-helmet hit with David Bruton; just a few minutes later, cornerback Brandon Flowers was carted off with an apparent knee injury. Neither would return. The Chargers failed to score a point in this time; a 48-yard field goal attempt swung wide right, so the Broncos maintained their 7-0 advantage.
The Broncos offense surrendered two three-and-outs after their impressive initial touchdown drive, but it was Denver's defense that would strike next. Malik Jackson pressured Philip Rivers, and Bruton jammed and smothered Antonio Gates: the combination made Rivers' errant pass intended for Gates an easy pick-six for the Broncos' Danny Trevathan.
Denver's defense sacked Rivers into oblivion on the next drive (credit Shaquil Barrett), then a great 21-yard punt return by Omar Bolden gave Brock Osweiler the football near Denver territory. The Broncos decided to grind out the clock at this point, running it nine times in 14 plays that took off 7:18 from the clock. Brandon McManus nailed the gimme field goalto improve their lead to 17-0. Rivers and company then drove down the field to finally hit the scoreboard 17-3 with less than two minutes in the half.
In two-minute-drill mode, Osweiler and company struggled to go far. They quickly used up their last timeout, then allowed the clock to expire. Halftime, 17-3.
DEN vs. SD
DEN vs. SD
After a Von Miller turnover, Denver's pass protection issues reared their ugly head. Brock Osweiler was sacked twice in the series - one was negated by a Melvin Ingram personal foul for smacking Osweiler in the helmet, but Juwan Thompson's 14-yard catch and run still wasn't enough to convert the first down on the Broncos' 3rd and 18. Brandon McManus lined up deep and missed the 52-yard field goal attempt, leaving the score 17-3 six minutes into the half.
Later in Q3, Brock Osweiler paid the price for some of the aggressive passing with which he had gotten away earlier in the game. Targeting Emmanuel Sanders in the end zone deep, Osweiler's pass was slightly underthrown and perfectly defensed by San Diego's Jason Verrett. The interception was the Broncos' first turnover of the game and left the Chargers hanging around. Ultimately, the third quarter would end without a score.
The fourth quarter also started scoreless, but the Broncos still made a big impact in another area: the game clock. Pinned deep near their end zone, Osweiler and company scraped out a six-minute drive that got the Broncos to midfield. The Broncos then punted and pinned the Chargers at their one-yard line. While it wasn't the touchdown drive everyone had been waiting for since Denver's first possession, it was a victory for Denver: up two scores in Q4, knocking out six minutes, and pinning their opponent back deep.
I'll take this box score every friggin' week! Get up big early, go Game Manager, and let your defense seal the win. pic.twitter.com/huSoX5Wv9J— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) December 7, 2015
In the end, the second half was totally scoreless, but Denver's defense made sure the game was never close. While it wasn't Brock Osweiler's best game (he finished with a 76.8 passer rating), the run game and defense did more than enough to earn victory.