SAN DIEGO (AP) — Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos sent a big “get well soon” message to coach John Fox.
What could possibly make Fox feel better than a 28-20 win against the San Diego Chargers?
Manning threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns, three to Demaryius Thomas, as he efficiently led the Broncos through their first game since Fox had heart surgery.
Fox had had his aortic valve replaced last Monday in Charlotte, N.C., and was released Friday to his offseason home there, where he’ll continue his recovery and begin rehab soon.
Fox planned to watch the game on TV there, a team spokesman said. If he watched, he probably didn’t like seeing Manning hurting his right ankle when he was hit by Corey Liuget in the closing minutes, but the QB stayed in the game.
With interim coach Jack Del Rio in charge, Manning kept the Broncos (8-1) rolling. He threw touchdown passes of 11, 7 and 34 yards to Thomas on consecutive drives spanning the second and third quarters, staking the Broncos to a 28-6 lead.
Julius Thomas had a 74-yard catch-and-run on Denver’s first drive, turning a short pass into the second-longest play by a tight end in team history.
The Broncos’ scoring drives lasted 57 seconds; 2 minutes, 27 seconds, 1:25, and 3:26.
Manning has thrown for 3,249 yards and 33 touchdowns in nine games. He completed 25 of 36 passes against the Chargers.
The Chargers (4-5) closed the gap late in the second half but couldn’t catch up.
Manning’s big afternoon was marred only when rookie linebacker Tourek Williams hit Manning from behind and knocked the ball loose, with Donald Butler recovering at the Denver 11 midway through the third quarter. Two plays later, Philip Rivers found Danny Woodhead for a 7-yard scoring pass.
The Chargers pulled to 28-20 on Ryan Mathews’ 1-yard touchdown run on third down with 10:42 to play. A week earlier, the Chargers had the ball first-and-goal from the Washington 1 before Woodhead was stuffed and Rivers threw two incompletions before settling for a field goal to force overtime. The Redskins won 30-24.
San Diego settled for field goals of 26 and 40 yards by Nick Novak in the second quarter. Novak was wide left on a 37-yard attempt with 1:38 left before halftime.
That gave Manning enough time to move the Broncos 73 yards in nine plays, all passes, capped by his 7-yard scoring throw to Demaryius Thomas for a 21-6 lead before halftime. Manning threw only one incompletion that drive.
The Broncos got the opening kickoff of the second half and went 78 yards in eight plays, with Thomas’ 34-yard TD catch giving the Broncos a 28-6 lead.
The Chargers finished the game without left tackle King Dunlap, who sustained his third concussion this season, and center Nick Hardwick, who had a stinger. Rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker moved to left tackle.
Rivers completed 19 of 29 passes for 218 yards.
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