Nov 10, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) looks to the sideline during the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. The Broncos won 28-20. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
KUSA - With a berth in the playoffs secured and coming off a short week, the Denver Broncos could be in a spot for a bit of a letdown Thursday night when the San Diego Chargers come to town.
Add to that the Chargers barely hanging in the postseason race, the table might be tilted. But the Broncos (11-2) certainly remain focused on keeping the top spot in the AFC to secure home-field advantage through the playoffs.
"What we talk about is if we do what we have to do then we'll be in the position we want to be in and that's the No. 1 seed in our conference," Broncos tight end Julius Thomas said. "We know that it's in our hands. We continue to win games, we'll be exactly where we want to be. Today it's all about the Chargers and finding a way to get this victory."
Denver is a game ahead of New England (10-3), but the Patriots hold the tiebreaker thanks to their Nov. 24 win over the Broncos. New England plays Sunday at Miami (7-6). The Broncos are a game ahead of Kansas City (10-3) in the AFC West and hold the tiebreaker with a sweep of the Chiefs.
"It tells you how competitive our division is that you're still having to take care of business each week to have a chance to possibly win the division," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said this week, "and that's where our focus is."
Manning needs five touchdowns to tie the single-season record for TD passes (50 by Tom Brady). Manning held that record with 49 TD passes in 2004 until Brady broke it in 2007.
And with the high-powered offense this season, Manning needs just 179 yards to set his personal best for passing yards in a season (4,700 in 2009).
But those numbers and all the records, even the seven touchdowns in the season-opener, don't mean anything to the 37-year-old quarterback. His biggest concern is winning.
"I remember in the beginning of the season, we broke a record together and I didn't even know. He was like, 'Why didn't you keep the ball?' and I didn't know," receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "It was the seventh touchdown in the game and it shocked me."
In the Broncos' 28-20 win Nov. 10 at San Diego, Manning finished with 330 yards and four touchdown passes and he was not sacked. But he did re-injure his high ankle sprain. And that Chargers' defense was a little different.
The big change is the return of linebacker Melvin Ingram, who had been recovering for a knee injury in May. Ingram returned last week for the first time (13 plays against the Giants), and expects to increase his workload this week.
Ingram joins fellow linebacker Donald Butler, who played in the Nov. 10 after missing three games because of a groin injury. Butler led the Chargers with seven tackles in that game.
The Broncos' offense will look a little different as well without Wes Welker as the receiver recovers from his second concussion this season. Welker is second on the team with 73 receptions and 10 touchdown passes and third with 778 yards.
Expect tight end Jacob Tamme to work into the offense a bit more this week perhaps in the role as the slot receiver. Tamme has not played as much this season with the emergence of Julius Thomas, but he has continued to make his presence know with the team.
"I know it's not quite the role he had last year and I'm sure that was a little disappointing," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said, "but he's never said anything. He's just constantly worked. ...And then he got thrown in there in the New England game and he came through big for us. He's consistently done it for us the last couple of weeks. I'm just glad that we have him on our squad. When Welker went down, he filled in big."
Despite their 6-7 record, the Chargers' offense has had a respectable season with new coach (and former Broncos offensive coordinator) Mike McCoy. Philip Rivers is tops of the NFL's starting quarterbacks with a 70.3 completion percentage, ranks fourth with 3,882 passing yards and fifth with 26 TD passes against just nine interceptions.
In the earlier game against Denver, Rivers was 19-of-29 for 218 yards and just one touchdown but no interceptions. Last week against the Giants, he threw for 249 yards, three TDs and no picks.
"I think he's always been a great competitor," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "I think Mike going in there, he's done a great job of kind of getting him to understand how the scheme works, how the system works. He's making great decisions."
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