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.
Article continues below ...
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.”