Broncos clinch fourth straight AFC West title with win in San Diego
SAN DIEGO -- Peyton Manning was sick and sore, and still helped the Denver Broncos clinch their fourth straight AFC West title.
Manning played through a thigh injury and flu-like symptoms and Connor Barth kicked five field goals to lead Denver to a 22-10 victory against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
Manning came out of the game late in the second quarter. He apparently hurt his thigh while blocking linebacker Donald Butler on a run by C.J. Anderson.
He returned for the start of the third quarter and on Denver's second possession threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas to give the Broncos a 16-3 lead.
The Broncos (11-3) won their fourth straight game and are tied with New England for the AFC's best record. New England beat the Broncos 43-21 on Nov. 2.
Denver's 12th straight division road win tied San Francisco's NFL record set from 1987-90.
The Chargers (8-6) entered the game as the AFC's No. 6 seed and saw their wild-card chances diminished. They've lost two straight.
Manning completed 14 of 20 passes for 233 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
A week earlier, Manning's touchdown streak came to a halt at 51 games, three shy of Drew Brees' NFL record, and he was picked off twice for the fourth time in the past six games.
San Diego pulled within six points when Antonio Gates caught a 5-yard pass from Philip Rivers with 10:13 left. Gates joined Rob Gronkowski as the only tight ends in NFL history with four seasons with at least 10 touchdown catches.
Then Manning led the Broncos on a drive capped by Barth's 49-yard field goal with 4:53 to play. After Aqib Talib intercepted Rivers, Barth kicked a 44-yarder to give the Broncos a 12-point lead.
Manning came in with flu-like symptoms and hurt his thigh in the second quarter.
On third-and-goal from the San Diego 1, Anderson started right but then cut back. Manning stepped up and blocked Butler. Officials initially ruled Anderson scored, but reversed the call after a review, saying his knee was down. The Broncos settled for a third field goal from Barth, from 19 yards, for a 9-0 lead with 1:50 before halftime.
Manning headed to the locker room. Butler was spun around on Manning's block and injured an elbow.
The Broncos forced the Chargers to punt, and Manning's backup, Brock Osweiler, trotted out for the Broncos. After an incompletion on first down, Osweiler was whistled for intentional grounding after being pressured by Dwight Freeney.
Denver punted and a 58-yard return by Eddie Royal, a former Broncos player, helped set up Nick Novak's 30-yard field goal to pull San Diego to 9-3 at halftime.
The Broncos got inside the Chargers 10 on consecutive drives in the first half but had to settle for field goals each time.
Manning threw a 36-yard pass to Thomas and Anderson had four carries, including an 8-yard gain to the San Diego 1. Manning then threw two incompletions, which brought on Barth the 19-yarder.
After forcing the Chargers to punt, Manning hit Julius Thomas on a 30-yarder and the Broncos got to the Chargers 8 before the drive stalled. Barth kicked a 26-yarder.
San Diego's Nick Novak had a 46-yard field goal attempt blocked by Derek Wolfe.
Thomas had six catches for 123 yards and Anderson ran 29 times for 85 yards.
Rahim Moore intercepted Rivers in the end zone and returned it to the 14 with 1:53 left.