Chargers-Broncos Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 15, 2012
A historic comeback helped the Denver Broncos tie the San Diego Chargers atop the AFC West standings last month. Peyton Manning and the Broncos can take a firm grip of the division lead - and put a huge dent in the Chargers' playoff chances - with its first season sweep in this series in seven years. The Broncos go for their fifth straight victory on Sunday against a Chargers team trying to get back on track with its fourth consecutive win at Denver. Facing a 24-0 halftime deficit, the Broncos rallied for a 35-24 victory at San Diego on Oct. 15 to pull even with the Chargers at 3-3. Since his three second-half touchdowns in that contest helped the Broncos post the fourth-greatest comeback in league history, Manning has guided Denver (6-3) to three more victories and a two-game edge over second-place San Diego (4-5), which has two wins in its last seven games - both against lowly Kansas City. While Manning is a making a strong case for an unprecedented fifth MVP - he owns the league's best passer rating (108.0) and is completing a career-best 69.7 percent of his passes - he's definitely not doing it alone. The Broncos, who have the league's sixth-ranked defense, have 12 sacks in the last two contests and are allowing 18.8 points per game during the winning streak. Denver's special teams have also come up big lately with Trindon Holliday returning kicks for TDs in each of the last two games. The NFL said this week that his 76-yard punt return in last Sunday's 36-14 win at Carolina should have been ruled a touchback after he flipped the ball out of his hands before crossing the goal line, but that doesn't change the fact that San Diego could have its hands full with the speedy returner. "Denver's playing amazing right now," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. "All three phases are playing well off of each other and it shows on the tape." San Diego coach Norv Turner couldn't have enjoyed watching the second half of last Sunday's 34-24 loss to Tampa Bay. Coming off a 31-13 win over the Chiefs that ended their three-game skid, the Chargers were outscored 17-3 in the final 19-plus minutes. Philip Rivers had three TDs, but he was picked off twice in the second half, the last one returned 83 yards for a score in the fourth quarter. "The big negative plays, the turnovers are killing us," Turner said. "Our biggest thing is we need to go put four quarters together, play at a high level, take care of the ball and not give up. If a team's going to make plays on you, make them earn it. Don't give up easy plays. It's a challenge for us coming into Denver." Rivers is 5-1 visiting the Broncos following a 29-24 victory on Oct. 9, 2011, but the Chargers' signal-caller has been awful in the fourth quarter with a 56.5 passer rating and a league-worst six INTs. Chris Harris' 46-yard INT return for a score with 2:05 left sealed the Broncos' victory on Oct. 15. Manning, meanwhile, has nine TDs, no INTs and a 121.9 passer rating in the fourth quarter. After throwing a touchdown to Brandon Stokley last Sunday, the veteran quarterback is one shy of passing Dan Marino for second all-time with 421. "I have never felt comfortable kind of being mentioned with him,'' Manning said. Manning, though, has no problem giving credit to an offensive line that's allowed just 11 sacks this season. "They have done a great job and certainly every quarterback appreciates it when you don't get sacked,'' he said. Rivers has been sacked twice as much, yet just four times in the last three games. The Chargers' line, though, could face one of its stiffest tests of the season in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who are the league's top-duo in terms of sacks with 17. Dumervil, though, is questionable after leaving last Sunday's game with a left shoulder injury. An MRI on Monday did not reveal a tear and he didn't practice on Wednesday. Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams, the team's leading tackler in five of the last eight seasons, could make his season debut after missing six games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and the next three for a second alcohol-related driving conviction. Denver's secondary will have to keep an eye on Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who has all four of his TDs - he caught a season-best two against Denver - in the last four games. Gates is one TD shy of matching Lance Alworth for the team record with 81. Chargers back Ryan Mathews is questionable after missing practice on Wednesday with a stiff neck. He ran for 74 in last month's loss to Denver after averaging 127.3 in his first three games in this divisional matchup.
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