KUSA - In a season where the Denver Broncos' offense set some kind of record nearly every week, would anyone ever have imagined they would be held yardless in a quarter?
The Broncos had minus-1 yard of offense in the second quarter Thursday night as the San Diego Chargers rallied to a 17-10 halftime lead en route to a 27-20 victory over Denver.
And the Broncos' defense didn't look much better, giving up 337yards, including 127 yards to Ryan Mathews on 29 carries. He is the first running back this season to have a 100-yard game against the Broncos. As well, Denver's defense was twice called for 12 men on the field and also had to take a timeout to avoid a third 12-man penalty.
After taking a 10-3 led, the Broncos had four consecutive drives that ended with a punt. Between the second and third quarters, Denver totaled 30 yards of offense.
"We didn't have the ball much," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said, "and when we had it, though, we didn't do enough with it."
The Broncos (11-3) had the ball for just 21 minutes, 11 seconds and finished with 295 yards. The Chargers had the ball for 38:49.
"We didn't have our best stuff tonight," Broncos coach John Fox said. "They obviously did a better job getting ready on the short week than we did. ... We couldn't get them off the field enough on third down and we couldn't say on the field enough on third down."
Denver was 2-of-9 on third-down tries, while the Chargers were 6-of-12.
But as soon as the Broncos got down 24-10, the offense seemed to find itself, going 89 yards in 12 plays to pull within 24-17 with 10:25 left in the game. Manning connected with Andre Caldwell for their second TD in the game. Coming into Thursday's game, Caldwell had five receptions all season (and just one TD catch).
"It's very tough. I went out there and tried to do all that I can to help our team win the game, and we came out on the short end," said Caldwell, who finished with six catches for 59 yards. "There's no rewards when you lose. I may have played pretty decent, but it's still a tough loss for me."
The fourth-quarter scoring drive seemed to ignite the Denver defense, which finally stopped the Chargers on third down to force a punt from the Denver 37-yard line.
Denver got the ball at its 3-yard line with 5:50 left in the game and holding two timeouts. But Manning was intercepted on the third play of the drive, giving the Chargers the ball at the Broncos' 33-yard line with 5:07 to play.
The Chargers continued to milk the clock then secured the win with Nick Novak's 35-yard field goal with 2:41 left in the game. The win moves San Diego to 7-7 and right back in the hunt for a wild-card spot.
"We didn't mention one word about time of possession this week," Rivers said. "We said, 'We've got to score.' Time of possession is only important if you're scoring."
Denver will have to keep an eye on New England (10-3), which trailed Denver by one game going into this week and plays Sunday at Miami. The Patriots hold the tiebreaker vs. Denver thanks to their Nov. 24 win against the Broncos.
The Broncos finish the season with two road games: Dec. 22 at Houston then Dec. 29 at Oakland. Should Denver maintain of the top two spots in the AFC, they would have a first-round bye then play Jan. 11 or 12 at home in the divisional round. The top seed will host the Jan. 19 AFC championship game, if the win in the divisional round.
After Miami, New England plays Dec. 22 at Baltimore then Dec. 29 at home against Buffalo.
San Diego claimed a 17-10 lead at halftime Thursday as the Broncos' offense was no threat in the second quarter. Denver had minus-1 yard of total offense in the second after 122 yards in the opening quarter.
Denver had 122 yards on 15 plays then had 13 yards on its next 13 plays in over the second and third quarters.
It didn't take the Broncos long to take the lead at the start, going 67 yards in seven plays on the game's first drive. Manning threw TD pass No. 46, connecting with Caldwell for a 7-0 lead in less than 3 minutes into the game.
The Chargers responded with a long, slow drive but had to settle for a 38-yard field goal after stalling in the red zone. The 11-play drive took more than 6½ minutes off the clock.
Denver had to settle for a Matt Prater 32-yard field goal on the next drive for a 10-3 lead with 1:22 left in the opening quarter.
The Chargers put together another long drive on their second possession and tied the game at 10-10 after Keenan Allen bullied his way into the end zone after his catch on the 19-yard crossing route. Allen hurdled Kavyon Webster at the 5-yard line then ran through Mike Adams at the goal line to score. San Diego went 80 yards in 13 plays and again burned more than 6½ minutes off the clock. The Chargers' first two drives took 13:12 off the clock.
"The longer you keep the ball and the less he has it, the better off you're going to be," said Chargers coach Mike McCoy.
With the Chargers' defense solving a bit of the issues they had in the first quarter, San Diego slowed down Manning. The Chargers took a 17-10 lead on Allen's second TD catch, this one with 65 seconds left in the first half.
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