Stressful, yes, but successful.
This was it, win or go home, and the Denver Broncos showed up looking like they understood the stakes.
Denver was dominant to start the Divisional round playoff game. They came out and stopped the San Diego Chargers offense and Peyton Manning made sure his team scored to take the 7-0 lead when he hit Demaryius Thomas low on the goal line. On the Broncos second touchdown drive, Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno ran it multiple times before Wes Welker ran an option route short and outside for the 14-0 lead.
Then, just before halftime, Eric Decker looked to have a touchdown on a punt return before he tripped himself. Then, as the time ticked down, Manning hit Decker in the chest in the back of the end zone which he dropped and it was tipped into the hands of Donald Butler for the interception just before halftime as Denver’s second turnover.
The Broncos added a field goal, of 45 yards in the third quarter, and then Prater missed a 47-yarder just before the start of the fourth to lead 17-0.
San Diego fought back, as Philip Rivers hit Keenan Allen over former Chargers DB Quentin Jammer for their first touchdown of the day to bring the game to 10 points, 7-17, early in the fourth.
Denver responded with an 81-yard drive capped off by Knowshon Moreno pushing across the goal line when Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin combined as a wall of men that pushed the Chargers back and Moreno followed closely behind.
But then Keenan Allen happened. First he was found by Rivers passed Quentin Jammer on a 49-yarder down the right sideline, then Rivers hit him a few plays later for the touchdown. 14-24 Broncos.
After a successful onside kick, Nick Novak capped off the drive with a 30-yard field goal and it brought the game to one score, 17-24 Denver.
All the Broncos had to do was run out the clock, with just under four minutes to play; sounds easy, right? Denver made it look difficult and Julius Thomas came through huge on two crucial third down conversions in a row and a five yard run up the middle by Moreno clinched the win.
MVP – PFM
Peyton Manning answered his critics and played a great game. Seemingly every pass he threw was on the money, it was just that a number of them were dropped by his receivers. Julius Thomas missed a short pass that he could have turned up field for many yards early, Decker had the touchdown bounce off his chest and more. Still, Manning went 25-36 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and one interception to lead his team to the win. Opposite of last season, when the game was on the line late, the Broncos threw the ball with Manning instead of running conservatively and having to punt away. Manning’s passing took them to the AFC Championship game.
LVP – Quentin Jammer
Quentin Jammer looked every bit of the 34 years old he is. He gave up the Chargers’ first touchdown to Keenan Allen and was burned for 49 yard pass on late fourth quarter drive by Allen to set up the second TD. It seemed Champ Bailey should have been in there over him, but the Broncos stuck with Jammer throughout the contest.
X-Factor – Julius Thomas
“Orange Julius” started out slowly but gained footing as his first career playoff game went on. And down the stretch, his two catches on back-to-back third-and-long situations were so very clutch; each were a reason the Broncos were able to salt the game away. Thomas’ 76 receiving yards led the Broncos, while his six catches were tied with Wes Welker for second most to Demaryius Thomas’ eight.
Key Stat – 3rd down conversions
The Denver Broncos were 9-13 on third downs, much improved from the last time these two teams met, when they were a dismal 2-9. Conversely, the Chargers were a terrible 4-12 on the crucial downs. It’s the difference in the game, without a doubt.
Tweet of the Game
That's the most Eric Decker thing ever.
— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) January 12, 2014
After Decker tripped himself up on what should have been a punt return to the end zone, our own Ryan Koenigsberg tweeted this.
What This Win Means
It means the Denver Broncos will host their first AFC Championship game since 2006 against the New England Patriots.
Broncos – Patriots
Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium
Sunday, January 24
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