Chargers, Rivers a mile high against Broncos, Manning
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (23) is tackled by San Diego Chargers linebacker Bront Bird (97) during the second half at Qualcomm Stadium. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports Photo)
The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
Quarterback Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers won the AFC West's Mile High Shootout the hard way Thursday night against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Throwing for two touchdowns and leading methodical, clock-eating drives to keep the ball away from Denver's explosive offense, Rivers coolly led San Diego to a 27-20 upset over Denver.
Rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen caught touchdown passes of 19 and 10 yards from Rivers, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 166 yards passing in helping San Diego (7-7) keep alive its hopes for a playoff berth.
"We converted third downs when we had to," Rivers said. "We didn't make any unbelievable plays, but we made the plays we had to make. It's just kind of how the game went."
San Diego's Ryan Mathews ran for 128 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. He became the first running back to surpass 100 yards rushing against Denver's defense this season.
"That's an awesome team," San Diego wide receiver Vincent Brown said of the Broncos. "They've already proven what they can do. For us to come in here and do what we did says a lot about us."
Manning, Denver's quarterback, completed 27 of 41 passes for 289 yards passing with touchdown throws of 15 yards and 5 yards to wide receiver Andre Caldwell. However, the Broncos' league-leading offense was held to a season low in points.
On the surface, part of the plan was keeping the ball away from Manning and an offense that, coming in, scored at least 25 points in 18 consecutive games, including three games this season in which Denver topped 50 points.
San Diego averaged just under 10 plays in each of its first four scoring drives and finished with a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession (38:49 to 21:11).
Rivers insisted the Chargers didn't set out to control the clock. That was just the way it worked out.
"I can promise you, we didn't mention one word about time of possession this week," he said. "We mentioned we've got to score. We've got to score touchdowns and not field goals. We didn't do it every time, but we did it a couple of times that were key. We scored 14 points without their offense playing, other than three or four plays before the half."
The Broncos (11-3) saw their 10-game winning streak against fellow AFC West teams end. They also lost for the first time in five meetings with the Chargers.
"We just weren't as sharp as we needed to be," Manning said. "We didn't have the ball that much, and when we did, we didn't do enough with it. Give San Diego credit. It's a division loss. It's disappointing that we got beat by a team that played better than us today."
San Diego stretched its lead to 24-10 when Mathews shook free on a run around left end and bolted 23 yards for a touchdown with 11:06 remaining in the third quarter.
Manning finally got Denver's stalled offense moving, converting a fourth-and-6 play with a 15-yard completion to Caldwell that advanced the ball to the San Diego 16-yard line. Three plays later, Manning connected with Caldwell for their second score of the night, a 5-yard touchdown with 10:25 remaining.
Denver's defense, though, again struggled to get off the field. A third-down pass-interference call against safety Duke Ihenacho, in which he grabbed wide receiver Ladarius Green's jersey, helped extend a San Diego drive.
Earlier in the game, with the Chargers punting out of their end zone, the Broncos committed a neutral-zone infraction to give San Diego a first down. Denver later extended that possession again after being called for having 12 men on the field.