|Date of game: 12/14/2014
Recap: San Diego vs. Denver
San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Though Peyton Manning again wasn't at his best, the Denver Broncos proved once more they can win when their star quarterback isn't putting up prolific numbers.
Hindered by a bout with the flu and temporarily sidelined by a thigh injury, Manning got plenty of support from his Broncos teammates as Denver wrapped up another AFC West title with a 22-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
Manning briefly exited the game late in the first half and produced a modest 233 yards with a touchdown, but five Connor Barth field goals and a strong defensive effort helped Denver (11-3) sew up its fourth straight division crown.
"It's a tough division to win, so it feels good," said Manning. "All it does is guarantee you a spot in the playoffs, but at least you have a shot."
The Broncos limited San Diego to 288 total yards, with the Chargers failing to mount a sustained rushing attack with top back Ryan Mathews out with an ankle injury.
Philip Rivers finished 24-of-41 for 232 yards and a touchdown to Antonio Gates, but threw two late interceptions. Reliable kicker Nick Novak also missed a pair of field goal tries in a costly loss that now has San Diego (8-6) on the outside of the AFC playoff picture.
The Chargers were coming off last week's loss to New England.
"It was a tough two-game stretch against the best teams in the conference and we're not in their company yet," said Rivers. "We're just not. That doesn't mean we can't be or that I think we can't beat them. I believe we can."
Demaryius Thomas also stepped up for the Broncos, recording 123 yards and a touchdown on six catches, with C.J. Anderson adding 85 rushing yards on a workmanlike 29 carries.
Manning completed 14-of-20 attempts one week after he threw for a season-low 173 yards and had a streak of 51 consecutive games with a touchdown pass halted against Buffalo.
The Broncos won that game, too.
Manning was shaken up while blocking Chargers linebacker Donald Butler on Anderson's third-and-goal run that was initially ruled a touchdown, then overturned on review. When the five-time league MVP hobbled, Broncos head coach John Fox opted for Barth's 19-yard field goal that gave Denver a 9-0 lead with under two minutes to go in the half.
Brock Osweiler directed Denver's next series, which ended in a quick three- and-out, as Manning received treatment in the locker room. The punt was returned 58 yards deep into Broncos' territory by Eddie Royal, setting up Novak's 30-yard field goal that got San Diego on the board just before halftime.
The Broncos also punted with Manning back at the controls to begin the second half, but the legendary quarterback was in vintage form on the team's next possession.
After back-to-back strong runs from Anderson and Jeremy Stewart put Denver in scoring range, Manning sent an on-target back-shoulder throw in the direction of Thomas, who snared the pass and eluded Brandon Flowers for a 28-yard touchdown that extended the lead to 16-3 late in the third quarter.
The touchdown came moments after Novak struck the left upright on a 37-yard field goal attempt that would have pulled the Chargers within three points.
Rivers answered Manning with his best work of the day, going 5-for-5 in engineering an 11-play, 80-yard sequence he capped with a 5-yard strike to Gates that brought the Chargers back within one score with 10:13 remaining.
A defensive pass interference penalty on San Diego's Shareece Wright on 3rd- and-12 extended Denver's subsequent drive, however. Manning made him pay by connecting with Emmanuel Sanders for 33 yards two plays later, leading to Barth's 49-yard kick and a 19-10 Broncos' advantage with under five minutes to go.
Rivers was then picked off by Aqib Talib in San Diego territory, positioning Barth for his fifth field goal of the afternoon. His final pass, intended for Gates in the end zone, landed in the hands of Denver's Rahim Moore to seal the outcome at the two-minute warning.
Royal's long return was the highlight of an otherwise ineffective first two quarters for the Chargers' offense, which mustered a mere 92 yards and four first downs. Nearly all of that total came on a 13-play first-quarter drive that came up empty when Derek Wolfe blocked Novak's 46-yard field goal try.
The Broncos put up a pair of field goals prior to Novak's first failed kick, though they missed out on an opportunity for more on both occasions.
After marching inside the San Diego 10 on their second possession of the day -- highlighted by Thomas' 36-yard catch-and-run -- Manning couldn't connect on two throws to his No. 1 wideout from the 1-yard line and Fox settled for Barth's 19-yard kick.
Manning's 30-yard strike to Julius Thomas on 3rd-and-6 placed Denver back in the red zone on its next trek, but once again the Chargers held and Barth came on for a 26-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
San Diego later stuffed three straight runs from Juwan Thompson and Anderson from the 1-yard line, the last play the one in which Manning was injured.Game Notes
The Chargers were held to 216 total yards in last week's 23-14 loss to New
England ... The Broncos have now won four straight in San Diego and seven of
the last eight matchups between the clubs ... Julius Thomas returned after
missing Denver's last three games with a sprained ankle, with his 30-yard grab
in the first quarter his lone catch ... Chargers wideout Keenan Allen exited
the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury ... Manning surpassed 4,000
passing yards in a season for the 14th time in his career.