SAN DIEGO-Brady. Manning. The San Diego Chargers had them both in their backyard. Beat the Tom Brady and New England Patriots and Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, and the Chargers would be in the conversation as serious Super Bowl contenders. Instead they’re scrambling to stay alive for a postseason berth after defeats to both teams in two straight weeks.
For the second week in a row, the Chargers’ defense played as well as a team could against Brady and Manning, holding the Patriots to 23 points, and limiting the Broncos to just 22. Both games remained in doubt until one big play in the fourth quarter sealed the deal for the Chargers to absorb another heart-wrenching loss. Against the Patriots, the Chargers were still in it until Brady connected with Julian Edelman for a 69-yard touchdown scoring play halfway in the fourth period that clinched the Patriots’ 23-14 win.
The Broncos’ 22-10 win over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium Sunday, Dec. 14, was somewhat similar to the Patriots’ defeat. The Broncos used Manning’s 28-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter to be the backbreaker that the Chargers could not overcome just as Edelman’s scoring reception a week before became the knockout blow to San Diego’s playoffs hopes.
With the win, Denver now lay claim to another AFC West Division title. Denver’s pass rush specialist DeMarcus Ware talked about winning the AFC West in the grand things of what the Broncos are trying to achieve in the big picture, which is to make it back to the Super Bowl.
“I think it’s one goal of many,” Ware said. “But it’s all about a stepping stone. This one here is the first one, and we’re just trying to keep rolling from here.”
The notable oneness in this contest and the one against the Patriots is the fact the Chargers offense struggled over the final two quarters. The Chargers were blanked by the Patriots during the second half of their fifth defeat of the season. Against the Broncos, quarterback Philip Rivers and Co. could muster only a short touchdown pass to Antonio Gates in the fourth quarter over the last two periods of the game.
That scoring toss to Gates actually cut the Broncos’ lead to 16-10 with 10: 13 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, plenty of time to rally back from the six-point deficit. But two drives and two interceptions later, Rivers and the Chargers were left standing with an 8-6 record and facing the real possibility of missing the postseason altogether. The Chargers end their season with two rough games on the road against the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.
And they may have to do it without several of their top players in the lineup. Already missing punter Mike Scifres, who was injured against New England, the Chargers saw wide receiver Keenan Allen leave the locker room with a boot on his right leg, watched starting linebacker Donald Butler go down with an left elbow injury and could be without the services of offensive lineman D.J. Fluker. Add all of this to the serious of maladies that continue to plague running back Ryan Mathews, who didn’t play against Denver.
There is no option left for the Chargers but tin win the last two games otherwise it is a wrap on the season. San Diego coach Mike McCoy didn’t signal any particular area where his team fell short against the Broncos other than highlight all areas the team can make improvements at. McCoy refused to put the onus on the play of Rivers or blame the stagnant running game, which went MIA for a second straight week, accumulating only 56 yards for the entire game.
“We’re not making enough plays, getting critical penalties, not getting the points we need to…We all have to play better,” McCoy said afterward. “We’ll evaluate the film tomorrow, and then go from there. But we’ve gotta do a better job as a whole entire football team to find a way to win. We’re in it together.”