Chargers in AFC West race with big win
Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers (5-5) topped the Denver Broncos (3-7) on Monday night, propelling the Chargers to within a game of the AFC West lead.
Rivers had his second four-touchdown performance this year, leading the Chargers to a key divisional win. The Pro-Bowl quarterback distributed the ball to seven different receivers and was also helped out by a strong running game. Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles provided just enough threat for Rivers to unleash the play action pass.
Monday night’s game was a microcosm of what the San Diego Chargers do every season — start out slow and finish strong.
Rivers plays extraordinary
On the first series of the game, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton piloted a six-play, 69-yard touchdown drive.
After the initial score, however, Denver was limited to only seven more points for the rest of the game. The Chargers ripped off 35 unanswered points, led by Rivers who threw for 233 yards and four touchdowns. Rivers connected with Patrick Crayton for a 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter and never looked back. Rivers has won seven of nine games against the Broncos in his career.
Tolbert fills in well for rookie running back
Rookie running back Ryan Mathews was inactive in San Diego, but Tolbert stepped in and didn’t miss a beat. The third-year pro out of Coastal Carolina ran for 111 yards, breaching the 100-yard mark for the second time this season. San Diego has done a great job in recent years of uncovering undrafted free agents and plugging them into their system, and Tolbert is the latest example.
But it wasn’t just the offensive side of the ball that led the Chargers to this win. The defense and special teams played well too.
Phillips creates pressure on Orton
Linebacker Shaun Phillips was constantly in the backfield and sacked Orton twice. Phillips played a key role in limiting Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno to 58 yards on the ground. On one play in the second quarter, Phillips came off the edge quick and forced Orton into throwing an interception to Antoine Cason.
Chargers' young cornerback plays well
Cason, a first-round draft pick in 2008, has had big shoes to fill this season with the key offseason departure of Antonio Cromartie to the New York Jets. Cason leads the Chargers in interceptions (3) this season and has also been a factor defending the running game. The former Thorpe Award winner (top defensive back in college football) stifled the Broncos offense with a team-high nine tackles.
San Diego battles injury bug
The Chargers were without some of their key offensive weapons to injury. Mathews, Antonio Gates and Legedu Naanee were sidelined, but look to be back in action next week against the Indianapolis Colts. San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson will make his season debut next week after sitting out the first 10 games of the season. In the offseason, Jackson wanted a long-term deal but found the Chargers unwilling to reach an agreement and held out before being suspended by the team.
After starting out 2-5, the Chargers have rallied to win their last three games. The win puts the Chargers a game behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the division. The two play in San Diego in Week 14.