4:40 PM ET, January 12, 2014
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
While the San Diego Chargers enter Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game in Denver as nearly double-digit underdogs, they aren't lacking for confidence after getting the best of Peyton Manning's Broncos at Mile High last month.
Coach John Fox's team is out to make sure that doesn't happen again.
Denver had outscored opponents by an average of 20.4 points in winning its first seven home games before falling 27-20 to San Diego on Dec. 12. Ryan Mathews ran for 127 yards and a touchdown while the Chargers (10-7) held the Broncos (13-3) to their lowest point total of the season.
"It's tough to say you're confident knowing what you're going against. You don't want to take that the wrong way," Chargers Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle said. "Do we believe we can win (again)? Yes. Do we know what a tough challenge it is and how great we have to play? Yeah. It's not just because it's happened in the past it's going to happen. You still have to play at a high level and do the things necessary as a team to win."
"... We have been the underdog all year. We are out to continue to believe in ourselves."
Having averaged 37.9 points during the regular season -- the highest of any team in the Super Bowl era -- the Broncos were held to fewer than 30 in just three games, two of which came against the Chargers. Denver won 28-20 at San Diego in Week 10 behind 330 yards and four touchdowns from Manning.
"It taught us a lesson," tight end Jacob Tamme said of last month's loss. "We did kind of reboot after that and yes, I think we know that we need to play our best ball going forward and that's what we're planning on doing."
While beating the Chargers remains priority No. 1, the Broncos are also eager to prove themselves following last season's divisional round collapse against eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore. Denver gave up a game-tying 70-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in regulation before falling 38-35 in double-overtime last Jan. 12 -- exactly a year to the day of Sunday's clash.
"You don't harp on the first time you fell off your bike, but you remember falling off and you know you don't want to do it again," tight end Julius Thomas said. "So, it's not that we're dwelling on the Ravens or even if it's about the Ravens. It could have been any team that we lost to. But we do have a fresh reminder of if you don't come out and play your `A' game in this tournament, you're going to lose."
Coming off a bye, Denver secured the AFC's top seed with a 34-14 win at Oakland in Week 17. The Chargers, meanwhile, won their last four regular-season games to sneak into the playoffs, and they stayed hot with a 27-10 wild-card win at Cincinnati last Sunday.
San Diego ran for a season-high 196 yards while Philip Rivers completed 12 of 16 passes for a season-low 128 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers.
"Going on the road in a playoff game is not going to be easy, regardless of who you're playing," Chargers coach and former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said. "We're just worrying about ourselves right now, it's about us, and we're going to keep taking it one week at a time and just keep going, keep plugging away."
The Chargers have run for an average of 170.2 yards during the current five-game win streak and are 10-2 when rushing for more than 102, compared to 0-5 when they don't. It's unclear how much Mathews will be able to contribute, though, after leaving last weekend's game with a lingering ankle injury.
With or without Mathews, San Diego is likely to again turn to its ground game early and often in hopes of keeping Manning off the field. Manning, who set NFL single-season passing records with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, will have his full complement of receivers with Wes Welker set to return.
Welker has been out since suffering a concussion Dec. 8 against Tennessee, his second in a four-game span. Despite his absence, Welker finished second in the league with 18 receptions in the red zone, one behind Chargers running back Danny Woodhead.
"A lot of times teams will decide to go ahead and double Wes," said teammate Demaryius Thomas, who hauled in 14 TD receptions to rank second in the NFL. "So absolutely, it opens up things for me. If I have single-man coverage, it's something that I definitely enjoy and look forward to.
"Wes brings a lot to this offense and we're excited to have him back."
Manning has lost his last three postseason games and is 4-6 in his past 10 overall against the Chargers, including playoff losses during the 2007 and 2008 seasons while with Indianapolis. Rivers has posted a 99.1 quarterback rating in going 6-2 all-time in Denver.
"I've always appreciated and look forward to, as a fan of his growing up, to go against a Peyton Manning-led team," Rivers said. "The teams that we've both been on have had awesome games, and games have come down to the wire, overtime playoff games and our two games this year were really tight.
"They're a No. 1 seed for a reason. This is a heck of a team and it's rare to play an opponent three times in a season and being a division opponent, one we know well, they know us well. It's going to be awesome."
More from ESPN.com
Chargers' Gates suspended 4 games for PEDs
San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Recent Blog Posts
San Diego Chargers
- Roster analysis: Manti Te'o takes on leadership role for Chargers
- Former 49ers making seamless transitions with new teams
- Gates suspension a huge loss for Chargers
|Avg Points Allowed||17.0||17.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||SD|
|Rush Yds Allowed||SD|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Denver leads 14-13|
|Dec 12, 2013||SD 27, @DEN 20|
|Nov 10, 2013||SD 20, DEN 28|
|Nov 18, 2012||SD 23, @DEN 30|
|Oct 15, 2012||SD 24, DEN 35|
|Nov 27, 2011||SD 13, DEN 16|
|Oct 9, 2011||SD 29, @DEN 24|
|Jan 2, 2011||SD 33, @DEN 28|
|Nov 22, 2010||SD 35, DEN 14|
|Nov 22, 2009||SD 32, @DEN 3|
|Oct 19, 2009||SD 23, DEN 34|
|Dec 28, 2008||SD 52, DEN 21|
|Sep 14, 2008||SD 38, @DEN 39|
|Dec 24, 2007||SD 23, DEN 3|
|Oct 7, 2007||SD 41, @DEN 3|
|Dec 10, 2006||SD 48, DEN 20|
|Nov 19, 2006||SD 35, @DEN 27|
|Dec 31, 2005||SD 7, DEN 23|
|Sep 18, 2005||SD 17, @DEN 20|
|Dec 5, 2004||SD 20, DEN 17|
|Sep 26, 2004||SD 13, @DEN 23|
|Nov 16, 2003||SD 8, @DEN 37|
|Sep 14, 2003||SD 13, DEN 37|
|Dec 1, 2002||SD 30, DEN 27|
|Oct 6, 2002||SD 9, @DEN 26|
|Nov 11, 2001||SD 16, @DEN 26|
|Oct 21, 2001||SD 27, DEN 10|
Not only did the Chargers keep the ball for more than 38 minutes per game against the Broncos this season, but they converted 46.4 percent of their 3rd downs, compared to 29.4 percent for Denver. And while the Chargers only converted 4 of their 8 red-zone drives into touchdowns, they had three MORE red-zone possessions than the Broncos.[+]
Head-to-Head This Season
Peyton Manning was 1-3 against the remaining AFC playoff teams this season (Chargers, Patriots and Colts) and was sacked as many times in those four games as in his other 12 games combined.[+]
Peyton Manning This Season
The Broncos have drawn 5 neutral zone infractions on the Chargers today, the most drawn by a team in a single game since 2001.
The last time the Chargers were shut out in the first half of a playoff game was the 2007 wild card game against the Titans. They were down 6-0 at halftime and won 17-6.
Much of the talk going into this game was how the Chargers controlled to clock for over 38 minutes in each of their meetings with Denver in the regular season, while outrushing them by an average of over 100 yards. The Broncos reversed the trend in this game, aided by converting on 9-of-13 3rd downs, including a key 3rd-and-17 on the final drive.[+]
Eric Decker had 3 punt returns for 66 yards in the first half Sunday. Decker had 3 punt returns for 24 yards the previous two seasons combined.
Much like the Patriots in their win on Saturday, the Broncos leaned on their running game Sunday. The Broncos called designed rush plays on 34 of their 70 offensive snaps (48.6%), their second-highest rush percentage of the season (55.8% in Week 12 vs the Patriots). In their Week 15 loss to the Chargers, they rushed on 20.8% of offensive snaps, their lowest rush percentage of the season. The Broncos converted 9-of-13 (69.2%) third downs Sunday after converting 29.4% of their third-down opportunities in two regular season meetings with the Chargers. The Chargers were 4-for-12 on third down Sunday (33.3%) after converting an NFL-best 49.0% of third downs in the regular season, including 46.4% against the Broncos. The Broncos held the ball for over 35 minutes Sunday, after having fewer than 22 minutes of possession in each of their two regular-season matchups with the Chargers, their two lowest time of possession totals this season.[+]
Broncos Rushing vs Chargers, This Season
The Broncos had the ball for over 16 minutes in the first half. In each of their two regular season meetings, the Chargers had the ball for 38+ minutes.
Philip Rivers completed 6-of-7 passes 15 or more yards downfield for 153 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter after not completing a deep pass in the first three quarters. --Keenan Allen, who was held without a catch in the first half, had five receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. All five of Allen's fourth-quarter receptions came on throws at least 15 yards downfield. Allen's 123 fourth-quarter receiving yards are the most in any quarter of a playoff game since 2001.[+]
Philip Rivers Passing, Sunday
The Chargers were 1-6 on third down in the first half. They converted an NFL-best 49% of third downs during the regular season, and were 6-12 in their Week 15 over the Broncos.
- Peyton Manning used his patented hard count to draw five neutral zone infraction penalties, the most drawn by a team in a single game since 2001 (start of Stats & Info's dataset) and nearly matching the regular-season total of seven such penalties drawn by the Broncos, fourth most in the NFL. - Peyton Manning's interception in the end zone at the end of the first half was his first red-zone interception of the season, after throwing an NFL-high 37 red zone touchdowns without an interception in the regular season. That play was also the Chargers' first red zone interception of the season. - Peyton Manning's 3rd-and-17 conversion to Julius Thomas on the Broncos' final drive was their third 3rd-down conversion of 17+ yards on five attempts (60%) this season. Entering the game, teams had converted 11.2% of such third-down opportunities this season.
Ryan Mathews gained 26 yards on five rushes in the first half, but did not play in the second half. Mathews, who led the NFL in rushing after Week 11, ran for 127 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries in the Chargers' Week 15 victory in Denver.[+]
Chargers Rushing vs Broncos, This Season
Much like last year in the Divisional Playoffs, the Broncos got the ball with less than 4 minutes left, leading by 7. Instead of just running the ball, they used runs and passes to successfully run out the clock.[+]
Broncos Late Drives in Regulation, Last 2 Postseason Games
Rivers has targeted his wide receivers just twice in the first half. Both passes were incomplete.
The Broncos' offensive line kept Peyton Manning comfortable Sunday, avoiding a Chargers sack for the first time this season. Manning was under duress on two of 36 dropbacks (5.6%), his second-lowest duress percentage of the season. In their Week 10 matchup, the Chargers sacked or forced Manning to throw under duress 23.7% of the time, his second-highest duress percentage this season. Manning completed both passes under duress Sunday, a touchdown to Wes Welker and a 3rd-and-17 conversion to Julius Thomas on the Broncos' final drive. The Chargers were one of two NFL teams not to allow a touchdown under duress after Week 1
Manning's interception just before halftime was his first red zone interception of the season, and the first red zone interception for the Chargers defense this season.
ESPN Stats & Information