Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
DENVER --The Denver Broncos decided to beat the holiday season rush this year by allowing the San Diego Chargers to get back into the thick of the AFC West race earlier than usual.
I'm not ready to say Denver is in the middle of a historic collapse like it suffered last year, but the Broncos are no longer dominating the division.
After losing decisively to an AFC North opponent for the second straight week, the Broncos -- the early-season story of the NFL -- are now 6-2.
Denver had a 3.5 game lead over the Chargers, who have won three straight AFC West titles, when it beat the Chargers in San Diego on Oct. 19. Since then, the Broncos had a bye and lost to the Ravens and Steelers. The Chargers have won three straight games. The 5-3 Chargers now trail Denver by one game with half of the season to go.
Denver travels to Washington on Sunday and the Chargers host Philadelphia. Denver hosts San Diego in a huge division game Nov. 22. No team has ever had a 3.5 game division lead and not made the playoffs.
Denver handed San Diego the division last season when it lost its final three games of the year, while the Chargers won their final three games, including the season finale over the Broncos. It was the first time in NFL history a team blew a three-game lead in the final three weeks of the season.
Again, it is too soon to say Denver has another collapse in its future in the first year of the Josh McDaniels era.
But the Broncos have some shoring up to do as they try to hold off the Chargers. Denver quarterback Kyle Orton suddenly looks mortal again and the once-stout Denver defense is showing holes against both the pass and the run.
So, here come the Chargers, Denver. It can’t happen again, can it?