By Dave Thomas
When the Denver Broncos take the field in San Diego Monday evening, they have within their grasp the opportunity to move into a first-place tie with the Chargers for the AFC West lead.
Yes, it is still early in the season, but both teams know the magnitude of this game since it is actually a two-game swing for the winner, given this is a divisional battle.
Both teams look to rebound from tough losses last weekend, with both Denver and San Diego wanting to avoid getting on a negative roll heading into late October.
Denver (2-3) was being blown out in New England last Sunday before rallying within 10 points. Although they would go on to lose 31-21, the Broncos did not quit, much like their performance earlier this season when they charged back on the road at Atlanta, only to lose 27-21.
The Broncos, who grabbed major headlines in the off-season by nabbing future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning when he and the Colts parted ways, are hoping that his ability to win big games comes through against one of their old AFC adversaries.
That being said, Manning, who currently ranks fourth in the league with a 101.2 passer rating, has not exactly enjoyed a ton of success against the Chargers from his days in Indianapolis.
When you throw in the postseason, Manning has dropped five of his last six encounters with the Bolts, games that include him sporting 11 TD passes against 15 interceptions.
As Manning told Chargers.com this week during a conference call, “You’re talking different times. I’m on a different team now and it’s obviously different circumstances. Those were Colts versus Chargers games. This is a division game now. I have an appreciation of what a division rivalry means. I’m not familiar with this division rivalry. These two teams have a lot of history playing twice a year. I know it’s an important game within the division. It’s going to be a tough test for us going against their defense.” In five games this season so far, Manning has thrown for 1,499 yards (130-of-197), 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Chargers Need To Focus On More Than Just Manning
The Broncos, who snapped a four-game skid against San Diego last November with a 16-13 overtime win, are 1-0 in the division this season (beat Oakland 37-6). With a win, meantime, the Chargers would go to 3-0 in the division, having won on the road at Oakland and Kansas City last month.
Along with Manning’s presence on the field, the Broncos also can turn to the likes of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (nine receptions for game-high 188 yards vs. New England), while running back Willis McGahee has rushed for 376 yards on 83 carries, sporting three TD’s.
On the defensive side of the ball, Rahim Moore and Wesley Woodyard lead the Broncos in tackles with 37 each, while Von Miller has recorded five sacks. Denver has not been very effective in picking off opposing quarterbacks, recording only a pair of picks to date.
So, will the Peyton Manning who shows up Monday evening be the one who has struggled at times against the Chargers, or will this be the one who is ready to lead the Broncos to back-to-back AFC West titles?
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Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.