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Chargers Keep Playoff Hopes Alive, Knock Off First-Place Broncos 27-20

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By Dave Thomas

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 12: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos passes against the San Diego Chargers during a game at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on December 12, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

(Credit, Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

For the San Diego Chargers, this game had all the makings of a playoff game. In the end, the Chargers kept their AFC wild card hopes alive.

Keeping Peyton Manning on the sidelines for much of the evening, Philip Rivers and Co. left the Mile High City with a huge 27-20 win over the Denver Broncos in front of a nationwide Thursday Night Football audience.

In doing so, the Bolts evened their record at 7-7, keeping them in the hunt for an AFC playoff spot with two weeks to go. Meantime, Denver fell to 11-3, still in command in the race for home field advantage in the AFC playoffs, though that could change depending on New England’s (10-3) outcome Sunday in Miami.

On a cold but perfect night for football in Denver, the Chargers used a balanced run and passing game to leave Manning only to watch.

In their first meeting on Nov. 10 in San Diego, Manning carved up San Diego’s secondary, throwing for four touchdowns in a 28-20 victory that was not as close as the score might indicate. On this night, however, Manning was nowhere near the MVP quarterback that will likely walk off with the individual award when the 2013 season concludes.

San Diego Puts Forth Balanced Attack

Unlike the first meeting last month when the Chargers fell behind early and had to play catch up ball, the Chargers set the tone early, despite falling behind 7-0.

Rivers and rookie sensation Keenan Allen (leads the league in receptions for rookie wide receivers) connected on a pair of first half touchdowns, giving San Diego a 17-10 cushion at halftime.

Coming out in the second half, the Bolts chewed up a sizable portion of clock, giving the pigskin to Ryan Mathews, while Rivers converted on several third down plays to keep drives alive and the clock moving. In all, San Diego was 50 percent (6-of-12) on third down conversions, while the Broncos could only convert two of nine on the evening.

Along with a balanced offensive attack (177 yards rushing, 160 yards passing), San Diego’s defense played one of its best games of the season.

The Chargers picked off a Manning pass in the fourth quarter to stall a drive, while limiting Denver’s ground game to a mere 18 yards rushing on the evening. Put that together with balance on the offensive side of the ball and you had a prescription for a victory.

While the Chargers still need a number of things to fall their way over the final three weeks of the season, they’re still in the conversation when it comes to the AFC playoff picture.

No doubt San Diego will be watching Miami’s game at home versus New England on Sunday and Baltimore’s visit to Detroit on Monday Night Football. Both the Ravens and Dolphins currently sit at 7-6.

San Diego returns to action on Sunday, Dec. 22, when it hosts rival Oakland, followed by the regular season finale at home Dec. 29 versus Kansas City.

Team Grades

Offense: A -

The Chargers got another strong performance from Mathews, something that many Charger fans, fellow players and management been waiting to see. Mathews carried the rock 29 times for 127 yards, adding a TD along the way. A liability with the ball the last few seasons (fumbles), Mathews has done a much better job of protecting the pigskin this season, especially in the last month or so. Meantime, Allen continues to blow past a handful of other receivers picked ahead of him in this past spring’s draft. The Cal product finished the night with only two receptions for 29 yards, but both were big scores. Lastly, the offensive line that was such a question mark just a few weeks ago kept Rivers upright for much of the evening (two sacks).

Defense: A -

For the second game in a row, the Chargers put together a rather solid four quarters of defense. Holding Manning to 289 yards passing is an accomplishment, given the season the likely 2013 NFL MVP is having (came into game having passed for more than 4,000 yards and 45 TD’s). The defense against the run was stellar, as San Diego held Knowshown Moreno to a paltry 19 yards rushing on the night (Montee Ball rushed for -1 yard). The biggest play for the Bolts came in the fourth quarter when linebacker Thomas Keiser grabbed a Manning pass that was altered when the QB’s arm was hit as he released the ball. San Diego was able to milk some more time off the clock and cinch the win with a Nick Novak field goal. Fellow linebacker Donald Butler had another solid performance, turning in six solo tackles.

For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.

Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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