Chargers play keep-away in 27-20 win over Broncos

It started out as a giveaway and ended in a keep-away.

Mike McCoy’s gamble paid huge dividends when San Diego’s coach

outfoxed mentor John Fox and handed Peyton Manning his first

divisional loss since coming to Denver as the Chargers stunned the

Broncos 27-20 on Thursday night.

”We didn’t have the ball much and when we had it, we didn’t do

much with it,” a dejected Manning said after spending much of his

night on the sideline.

McCoy bucked conventional wisdom and give Manning the ball

first, deferring after winning the coin toss.

It seemed like a huge mistake when Manning, who entered the game

with 45 TD throws as leader of a high-octane offense that was

scoring nearly 40 points a game, needed just seven plays to put the

Broncos ahead 7-0 with a 15-yard touchdown toss to Bubba

Caldwell.

Before long, Manning had Denver up 10-3.

Then, the Chargers held the Broncos to just 13 yards on their

next 13 plays covering nearly 30 minutes of game clock, allowing

just one first down and forcing a flustered Manning to go

three-and-out three times.

The Chargers, on the other hand, were chewing up yards and clock

on their way to winning the time of possession by an astonishing 17

minutes, 38 seconds.

”The longer you keep the ball and the less he has it, the

better off you’re going to be,” said McCoy, who was Manning’s

offensive coordinator in Denver last season.

San Diego’s upset sent ripples through the AFC playoff

picture.

The Chargers (7-7), who finish with home games against Oakland

and Kansas City, are now in the thick of the wild-card race after

Philip Rivers, who threw two TD passes to rookie Keenan Allen,

joined Vince Young in becoming the second QB to beat the Manning

brothers in back-to-back weeks.

”We obviously know we’ve got to win the next two and need some

help,” Rivers said. ”Too bad we didn’t take care of business in

some of those other games or we would be the team that’s running

away with the sixth seed. But we’re not. We are where we are. We’re

a .500 ball club that’s going to fight like crazy to get the next

two.”

The Broncos (11-3) were left to sweat out the long weekend.

The New England Patriots (10-3) can surpass them in the race for

the top seed in the AFC with a win over Miami and the Chiefs (10-3)

can tie them atop the AFC West again, although the Broncos own the

tie-breaker there.

The Broncos have to be hoping the Chargers don’t reach the

postseason party.

Denver has been held under 30 points just three times all

season, twice by the Chargers, whom the Broncos beat 28-20 last

month when Jack Del Rio was in charge while Fox was recuperating

from heart surgery in North Carolina.

The Broncos had won 10 straight AFC West games under

Manning.

”We feel like we can match up with them,” Chargers safety Eric

Weddle said. ”On paper, a lot of people don’t think we’re very

good, but in our minds we’ve played them well in the past. We’ve

had some battles. There’s been some low-scoring games. They’re not

going to put up 45 on us like they’ve done against thousands of

other teams.”

Behind Rivers’ TD throws of 19 and 10 yards to Allen, and Nick

Novak’s 38-yard field goal, the Chargers took a 17-10 lead into the

locker room.

The Chargers cashed in on their coin-toss deferment when Ryan

Matthews, who tied his season high with 127 yards on 29 carries,

scored a 23-yard TD on San Diego’s opening drive of the third

quarter to make it 24-10.

The Broncos had faced double-digit deficits each of the last two

weeks and overcame them to beat Kansas City 35-28 and Tennessee

51-28.

But there was no such comeback on this night. Just when it

looked like they were going to make a run, penalties proved

costly.

The Chargers were lined up to punt out of their own end zone on

fourth-and-4 from their own 7 when Broncos linebacker Nate Irving

jumped into the neutral zone for a 5-yard flag and a first

down.

The Chargers would run another 11 plays and seven minutes off

the clock before punting, leaving Manning on the sideline to warm

up his arm and wait some more.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on

Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton