Chargers-Broncos Preview

Any mid-season signs of the Denver Broncos’ offense coming down

to Earth have been silenced by their big numbers in consecutive

weeks against respectable defenses.

The San Diego Chargers have fit that description the last two

weeks, and their slim playoff hopes now hinge on containing Peyton

Manning on Thursday night and handing the Broncos their first home

loss of the season.

The Broncos (11-2) are in the AFC West driver’s seat after

clinching a playoff spot and putting up a season-high 551 yards in

Sunday’s 51-28 win over Tennessee. Their 1,086 offensive yards in

the last two weeks is their best two-game stretch of the

season.

Wrapping up a postseason berth doesn’t change much for the team

going into Week 15.

“I guess you have some security but our job is not finished

– winning this division is number one and winning this

conference is number two,” wide receiver Eric Decker told the

team’s official website. “And we have to make sure that we get

better as a team as a whole. We have a big goal and expectations

for this year and that’s just one week at a time and grinding

away.”

At 6-7 following Sunday’s 37-14 home win over the New York

Giants, the Chargers don’t have any room for error in their final

three games.

“I can’t wait,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “It’s going to

be a great challenge. As a competitor and an athlete in the NFL,

these are the opportunities you want. We worked ourselves into a

hole and we have to depend on other people, but the only thing

we’re focusing on is what we can control, and right now that’s

Denver.”

Controlling Denver, however, has rarely happened this year.

Manning has thrown for 800 yards, nine touchdowns and two

interceptions in the last two weeks, and his 39 completions against

the Titans set a team record. With 45 TDs on the season, he is five

shy of matching Tom Brady’s single-season record from 2007 – which

eclipsed Manning’s then-record of 49 set with Indianapolis in

2004.

He can match that personal best with another big performance –

he’s thrown at least four TDs seven times this season – though

he’ll likely have to do so without one of his top targets, Wes

Welker. The slot receiver is doubtful for this contest after

leaving Sunday’s game with his second concussion in four games.

The Broncos, however, have relied on plenty of weapons this

season. Welker scored against the Titans, making the Broncos the

first team in NFL history to have four players with at least 10

touchdowns.

Tight end Julius Thomas returned from a two-game absence due to

a knee injury and caught his 11th TD pass of the year to join

Demaryius Thomas for the receiving team lead and set a franchise

record for tight ends in just 11 games.

Running back Knowshon Moreno leads Denver with 12 overall – 10

rushing and two receiving.

Decker isn’t far off from becoming the fifth with his eight TD

catches.

“All year, we’ve been talking about how dynamic our entire

offense is,” Julius Thomas said. “There are guys that maybe hadn’t

been getting as many touches in the beginning of the season. Now,

they’re going out there and they’re showing everybody what they can

do.”

The Broncos have won four straight against the Chargers,

including a 28-20 win in San Diego on Nov. 10, though the Chargers

held the Broncos to a season-low 397 yards.

San Diego’s 23-point win over the Giants was its largest margin

of victory since a 38-10 win on Sept. 16, 2012 against Tennessee.

And after allowing a total of 31 points in the last two weeks

against Cincinnati and the Giants, San Diego’s confidence is

high.

“That is one of our better all-around games,” Chargers coach

Mike McCoy said. “Overall, in all three phases, guys were making

plays. It was different guys. We might not have thrown for X number

of yards, but (it’s) the way we won the game.”

Philip Rivers went 21 of 28 for 249 yards with three TDs, no

interceptions and a season-high passer rating of 137.4. The

Chargers jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead.

And that’s basically how they lost to Denver last month, falling

behind 28-6 on the first possession of the second half.

“The last time we played them, we made a number of mistakes that

hurt us,” McCoy said. “There were a number of things that happened

where we made some critical mistakes. We have learned from those

mistakes, but that is every game. I think, without a doubt, the way

we have played at times this year, the players know we can

win.”