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Stellar defense, pedestrian offense vault Broncos to 10-2

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It wasn't a spectacular game, but it was a enough to bring home a big win and key learning opportunities that will help this Broncos team in its all-important quest for a strong finish in the final quarter of the season.

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In a game where the teams could have gone home at halftime and had the same outcome (plus fewer casualties), the Broncos' 17-3 victory over the Chargers came via a shutdown defense and an unremarkable offense ... but an all-important W.

And that ‘W' proved far more significant 20 minutes after the Broncos and Chargers had vacated the field at Qualcomm because 3,000 miles away the New England Patriots were staring at a 35-28 loss to the Eagles in Foxborough.

I don't know anything about what else is going on around the league. I think we've got a tough month heading our way and we better take it one day at a time.   -Gary Kubiak, head coach

Suddenly Denver's 10-2 record that came along with its 15th divisional road win was much more remarkable.

Not that the coach was paying attention to anything happening outside of "Mile High West."

"I don't know anything about what else is going on around the league," Coach Gary Kubiak said following the Broncos' victory, adding that his goal is to keep the team focused week-to-week. "I think we've got a tough month heading our way and we better take it one day at a time."

He's right about that.

The Broncos have a chance to own the No. 1 seed in the AFC following the four games left on the regular season schedule, which include playing host to a reeling Raiders team next week followed by a road trip to face the bombarding Steelers before coming home to take on possibly the biggest hurdle to a No. 1 playoff seed in the Bengals.

To own that top spot, the Broncos are going to need exactly what they brought to San Diego - a relentless rushing attack and a dominating defense.

A week after Philip Rivers threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns, the Chargers' always threatening QB mustered just 202 yards Sunday with two interceptions and zero touchdowns.

The Broncos defense also sacked Rivers four times, two of them coming from a surging Von Miller, who heard about it from Rivers at the end of the game.

"I don't think he was happy with the cologne I was wearing," Miller joked. "I was wearing a lot of it, and I guess he wasn't happy with it. I was on him a lot at the end of the game, so everybody doesn't like my smell."

The Broncos' coach certainly doesn't mind what cologne Miller is wearing as long as he's sharing it with the opponents.

"[Miller] was exceptional today," Kubiak said of his edge rusher, noting Miller also had really good practice week. "It's hard as a player 16 weeks in a row to be perfect at practice, but I think he amped it up a little bit, was really good at practice this week and took it to the field."

It was a good thing because even though the injury bug has attacked the Chargers with a vengeance, Rivers has often had his way with the Broncos secondary, proving last week that he doesn't need too many weapons to get the job done.

But he does need time, and this time around the Broncos' No. 1 defense would have none of that. With Miller pressuring Rivers all day - getting two sacks and four QB hits before it was all over - it was just a matter of time before No. 58 won that battle. And when he didn't get there, Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray were there to do it.

"We really didn't blitz a whole lot. We played coverage and I let those guys do their job and thought we did a good job at pushing the pocket," Kubiak said after the game, noting that the pressure also led to Danny Trevathan's 25-yard pick six in the first quarter. "I thought it was a group that played extremely well."

Miller thought so too, especially crediting the guys down the depth chart who filled in for inactive starters DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Sylvester Williams as well as Danny Trevathan who went out during the game for a concussion.

"I really think it's about the guys behind the starters," Miller said after the game. "There's a lot of talk about Chris (Harris Jr.) and Talib (Aqib) and T.J., but David Bruton Jr. is playing out of his mind right now. Bradley Roby is coming out to his own toot, Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray, and Corey Nelson are all guys that have come in and made the defense what it is. I'm very proud of those guys."

While the defense was keeping Rivers and Co. in check, the offense was puttering along...but that was all it had to do Sunday.

"We came out gang busters as a team playing really well, and I thought we looked a little tired at times today," Kubiak noted, "but we kept battling and sometimes on the road like that the key is not making mistakes and playing great defense."

Not making mistakes and playing great defense pretty much sums up the day. Broncos' quarterback Brock Osweiler was unimpressive in the stats column - going 16 of 26 for a mere 166 yards and throwing one touchdown but also one pick in the end zone - but effective enough to keep the game out of reach for the Chargers.

"I think he did some young things today. I think that's the way I would describe it," Kubiak said of Osweiler's performance, just his third start in the NFL. "But the thing I really like about him [is that] he learns from mistakes. He's always wanting the aggressive approach, so I feel really good."

On Brockweiler's lone interception Sunday, Kubiak said his young quarterback needs to make a better decision when the team is up two touchdowns.

"My conversation was...you check it down and you make sure we go up three scores, but [Osweiler's] nature is aggressive, which I like, but he's got to learn from those situations," Kubiak said, adding the good news was the team won the game. "For him to play on the road two out of three weeks and find a way to get it done with this team, there's some good progress going on there."

Progress is key as the season enters its fourth quarter, and nowhere was that more evident than a third week in a row with a patient running attack.

Although C.J. Anderson went out early for an ankle injury, Anderson, starter Ronnie Hillman and backup Juwan Thompson still combined for 125 yards on the ground, with Hillman leading the charge at 19 carries for 56 yards. Osweiler, Emmanuel Sanders and Andre Caldwell chipped in another 8 yards in rushing to give the Broncos another 100+-yard day running.

None of it was spectacular, but all of it was enough.

"We have a lot to do," said Hillman, a Southern California native whose longest run was just 11 yards. "We have to come back and establish that dominance. We have a lot to work on this week, and we have a good test against the Raiders coming up and we're at home."

As an offense you want to score points every drive and you want to throw the ball 50 times, but with the defense we have, maybe that's not the best formula.   -Brock Osweiler, quarterback

Although Osweiler threw one interception, the Broncos offense protected the ball well and often pinned the Chargers offense deep in its own territory to begin drives. Hillman noted the importance of the offense "winning the turnover battle" as a big contribution even if not scoring more than 10 points.

"Just taking care of the football and defense doing what they're doing, that's the formula for a successful team," he said.

Osweiler noted that having one of the best defenses in the NFL to back up the offense doesn't make him relax but it does add some confidence.

"What it does is it makes you understand the big picture," Osweiler said. "As a quarterback and as an offense you want to score points every drive and you want to throw the ball 50 times, but with the defense that we have maybe that's not the best formula to win games as the Denver Broncos of 2015."

Maybe not.