Broncos flop at home, Chargers capitalize for big win
December 13, 2013 § Leave a comment
The Broncos’ cornerback was so worked up that he couldn’t bring himself to sit at his locker in the first half-hour following the Broncos’ 27-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night at Sports Authority field, so he hopped up on a counter and just watched the scene in a silent and stunned locker room. As he sat there, watching hordes of reporters swarm his teammates, Rodgers-Cromartie steamed. “I’m one of the feisty guys on the team, and I get mad real fast,” Rodgers-Cromartie told USA TODAY Sports. “To see us not go out there and play with that enthusiasm and fire, it just makes me mad. It’s not like we weren’t out there playing fast or playing physical, we just got outplayed, and that can’t happen.”
There was plenty for the Broncos (11-3) to be angry about Thursday night.
It wasn’t just that Denver lost its first AFC West game since 2011, or even that the Broncos may have lost their hold on the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. It’s that in early December, the time when a team with Super Bowl aspirations should be ascending, the Broncos flopped.
It was, statistically, Denver’s worst offensive game of the year, with only 20 points (well below their average of 39.8 per game), just 18 rushing yards and a second quarter in which the Broncos didn’t manage a single first down in three possessions.
“Hey, it’s our job to score points when we have the ball, no matter if we have it for 40 minutes or 20 minutes,” quarterback Peyton Manning said. “We had it for 20 tonight, and we didn’t do a good enough job.”
But this isn’t a story about the failures of Manning and the offense. Manning still managed to throw two more touchdowns (Nos. 46 and 47 for the season), both to backup receiver Andre Caldwell, who was filling in for a concussed Wes Welker. Manning also threw an interception (his 10th) late in the fourth quarter, quelling Denver’s comeback bid.
Thursday’s loss to San Diego (7-7) revealed a defense in crisis.
“Maybe this was the punch in the mouth that we needed to wake up and realize that every team is going to give us their best shot and we’ve got to be prepared all the time,” defensive tackle Terrance Knighton told USA TODAY Sports.
The Broncos allowed at least 27 points for the fourth consecutive game and more often looked like a sloppy group that was just trying to find its way in a preseason game rather than a group that is bound for the playoffs. Denver’s defense was twice flagged for having 12 men on the field, and reserve linebacker Nate Irving was penalized for a neutral zone infraction on a San Diego punt. That penalty gave Philip Rivers more downs, and the Chargers milked nearly eight more minutes off the clock before finally punting again.
The Chargers converted 6 of 12 third downs, including 4 of 6 in the first half as they built a 17-10 lead, and rushed for 177 yards (the most rushing yards allowed in a game by Denver this year). San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers’ numbers were modest, just 12 completions for 166 yards, but he had just the perfect knack for exposing weaknesses in Denver’s defense.
On Thursday night that was rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster, who was in single coverage on one of Keenan Allen’s touchdown catches. Allen, a leading candidate for the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year award, hurdled Webster on his way into the end zone for his other touchdown.
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The loss enables the New England Patriots to move into a tie for the best record in the AFC with a win against Miami on Sunday. The Patriots own a head-to-head win against Denver. The Kansas City Chiefs also could match the Broncos’ record by beating the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, though the Broncos swept the Chiefs in their two games this year.
“The bad thing is we were in the position to control our own destiny, and now we’ve got to hope things happen in order to keep the No. 1 seed,” Knighton said. “Hopefully things will work out, but first and foremost we’ve got to handle our business, see what we can do better, and focus on Houston.”
San Diego, meanwhile, is proving that its own playoff bid is far from over. The Chargers have two home games remaining, against Oakland and Kansas City.
“We have to stay alive,” Rivers said. “We obviously need to win the next two and need some help. We just have to keep it one game at a time and enjoy the heck out of the turn we made and see if we can keep it going.”