Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. admitted something was on his mind during the first half of Thursday's 35-21 win over the San Diego Chargers. He allowed Philip Rivers' second-biggest gain of the night, a 16-yard reception by Malcolm Floyd on an outside-shoulder throw. He allowed another, shorter reception as well.
While most cornerbacks would be content with allowing two catches in a half, especially since neither broke for long gains, that hasn't been the type of production Harris has enjoyed to date. But Harris, 25, had a unique excuse - he and his wife Leah were expecting their first child to arrive imminently, a planned birth with Mrs. Harris to enter induced labor Thursday night.
"I couldn't focus," Harris said after the game. "I had a lot of things on my mind. But then, in the second half, I was just like, 'I've got to wake up and make a play for us.'"
Harris did exactly that - intercepting Philip Rivers three plays into the second half, setting up the Broncos with beautiful field position at their own 36-yard line. A personal foul penalty against Malik Jackson cost the Broncos 15 yards, but Peyton Manning and company were still able to drive the 51 yards for the touchdown, gaining a two-score lead from which the Chargers would never recover.
"They were saying earlier that they were going to keep throwing at me after a completion," Harris said. "I was like, ‘yeah keep throwing the ball my way.'"
"It was definitely a momentum-changer, especially entering the second half like that," safety T.J. Ward said. "They're looking to strike fast and get the momentum back and we snatched it right from them. It was a great play by Chris."
"Chris Harris gave a good talk to the team," Manning said. "Coach Fox has a different player talk to the team every Saturday night and Chris talked about having that killer instinct last week. We had it last week and I thought we had it again tonight and it's important to have."
Now, Harris' focus is with his family. He received a text during the game from his wife, Leah: "Woo hoo! A pick for Aria!"
Aria will be the name of the couple's first daughter, expected some time Friday.
The Broncos are off until Monday, but Harris will be preoccupied.
"I will be in the hospital the whole time," Harris said. "It's a new chapter in our lives."
Emmanuel Sanders shines
"We understand in this offense that it can be anyone's night at any moment," said wide receiver
Emmanuel Sanders. "Every week, we don't know where the ball is going to go. We run pretty much the same plays, the defense really dictates (where the ball goes)."
In Thursday's 35-21 win over the San Diego Chargers, it was his. Sanders scored the Broncos' first three touchdowns, caught the game's first pass and all eight others thrown his way, accounted for two of the Broncos' three longest gains, notched a 6-yard run on a jet sweep for good measure, and added to his growing reputation as one of the league's most explosive targets.
Peyton Manning called Sanders "a gym rat," praising Sanders on his much-deserved big night. "He never stops working."
For more, check out video highlights of Sanders' dominance.
Defense eats up
"We're a hungry group up front," said defensive tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, speaking figuratively and literally. "We have a chip on our shoulder that nobody's going to run the ball on us. It doesn't matter what quarterback we're going against."
Broncos greats Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe, and Terrell Davis talked about their Mile High expectations for this team. "The one thing I love about this team is its improvement on defense. If they're going to win the Super Bowl, it's going to be on defense," Smith told USA TODAY Sports.
The defense's identity, according to Harris: Stop the run, and force teams to throw.
Broncos linebacker Von Miller is keeping his sack dance moves fresh. "I get input from the guys in the locker room," Miller said. "I want the fans to enjoy it and wonder what I am going to do next."
Chargers blog Bolts from the Blue was far less concerned about the game and more concerned with the safety of safety Jahleel Addae. Addae was noticeably shaken up from the first play of the game, and was then seen wobbly late in the game.
According to ProFootballTalk, Addae said he had a stinger, not a concussion, but the visual on-field evidence definitely raises eyebrows in light of those statements.
Broncos linebacker Lamin Barrow, a regular special teams contributor, suffered a concussion Thursday and did not return to the game.
Manning praises Wes Welker, saying he's more than a security blanket and made "the play of the game." Manning talked about how he and his receivers try to spread the wealth, but inevitably, someone has the hot hand.
Manning extended several records Thursday, as he will every game, but his records specifically on Thursdays are unique and were also extended.