Most Broncos fans will never forget how Peyton Manning went out on top, helping Denver to win Super Bowl 50. When pressed, few would likely remember how his stint with the Denver Broncos started. Fewer still would believe me if I said it was a shaky start.
However, that’s exactly how it began. In 2012 the Denver Broncos, under Peyton Manning’s stewardship, had more losses than wins going into their Week 6 matchup at the Chargers. After losses to to the Falcons, Texans, and Patriots, people were beginning to whisper that the Peyton Manning experiment may be a failure.
Then the Chargers game happened.
The opening drives for both teams resulted in punts. The Chargers first got on the board with a Nick Novak field goal made possible by a Trindon Holliday muffed punt reception.
On the ensuing kickoff, Omar Bolden fumbled the catch allowing Philip Rivers and the Chargers to immediately capitalize with a 15-yard touchdown to Antonio Gates. In just under 7-minutes of game-play, the Chargers were up 10 on Denver in the first quarter.
The Broncos offense had been unimaginative with plenty of Willis McGahee runs and short passes that ultimately went nowhere, with one notable exception. Manning connected with Eric Decker for a 55-yard pass that lives on as one of the most bizarre plays in Broncos history. Inexplicably, Decker just fell over himself. I don’t know how to describe what happened any better than that. He just fell over.
Here’s a funny gif from the time that blames Buffalo Wild Wings for Decker’s clumsiness.
If yall didn't see, they had trip wire out there tonight. I reported it to the NFL so an investigation is pending. #humblingmoment— Eric Decker (@EricDecker87) October 16, 2012
At least the Broncos had good field position as a result, right? Peyton Manning, not wanting to be left off the struggle train, connected with future-Denver Bronco DB Quentin Jammer who ran the ball back for 80-yard Charger touchdown.
The first half concluded with a Philip Rivers touchdown to Antonio Gates. The Broncos were down 24-0 and Broncos fans were beginning to freak out. Some even lost faith in Peyton Manning. Here are comments pulled from the 2nd quarter live thread from that game.
For as bad a deficit the Broncos were facing, there were many who did not give up hope.
This game... Was certainly NOT over. Something happened in the locker room over halftime. The team collectively pulled its head out of the ‘sand’ and came out with guns blazing.
On the opening possession of the 2nd half, the Broncos marched down the field and scored when Peyton connected with Demarius Thomas on a 29-yard touchdown.
On the following Chargers possession, Elvis Dumervil sacked Philip Rivers causing him to cough up the ball to the Broncos Tony Carter who streaked down the field for a 65-yard touchdown. Suddenly the game was 24-14, Chargers.
I feel that it was at this point that the Chargers knew that they were about to be on the losing-end of something special. The 4th quarter opened with the Broncos scoring another touchdown, this time on a short Manning pass to Eric Decker for 7-yards.
Philip Rivers, trying to turn the tide of the inevitable, threw an interception on the following drive to Tony Carter. Peyton made them pay by marching down for another touchdown, this one a beautiful 21-yard pass to Brandon Stokely. It was a catch so pretty that MHR’s own Bronco Mike (RIP) took notice in his recap article.
Stokley: One of the great individual catches of the season, rivaling DT's catch against Atlanta. He's not the biggest or fastest guy, but every week he makes a key catch to put points on the board or move the chains.
The Broncos had taken a 28-24 lead over the Chargers. 28 unanswered points in the second half and they weren’t done yet. Just before the 2-minute warning, Chris Harris stepped in front of a pass intended for Charger Eddie Royal and took it 46-yards for the final touchdown of the game. The Broncos put together an epic second half and won 35-24, completely shutting down the Chargers down.
At this point the Broncos were 3-3 in a season where they would not lose another regular season game. This game was the spark that propelled the Broncos onto their successful run under Peyton Manning. It was a win that unified Broncos Country at the time. It was when we realized that something special was going on in Denver.
Bronco Mike saw it at the time and had this to say in his recap article.
We all witnessed history. It was the largest comeback in Manning's career and the third largest comeback in our history. Games like that don't happen often. I hope that this game helps nudge our fanbase and MHR back together. It has been a tumoltuous handful of years. We've had a lot to dislike and disagree about and somewhere in between it became personal on a lot of levels. Whether it was Cutler for Plummer, Orton for Cutler, Manning for Tebow, Josh McDaniels for Shanahan----we've been polarized to a certain extent. A lot of grief has been given to other Broncos fans based upon their opinions and likes. I've done it, you've done. I'm tired of arguing with my brothers and sisters. Let's allow the awesomeness that was last night to heal old wounds and bring us together as one. Let us just be simply: Broncos fans. I guess I'll go first: I'm sorry if I've angered you with my words, and I forgive you for doing the same to me. It's time to move on from the anger and bitterness.
It’s interesting to read his words then with the perspective of today. He was absolutely right. It was an historic game of immense importance. Moreover, he was right about Broncos fans as brothers and sisters who just need to get along. In these days of Siemian vs. Brock vs. Lynch vs. Sloter, let’s not forget the main thing.... That we are all citizens of Broncos Country. Now, let’s go watch some Broncos football and kick some Chargers butt.