(Sunday, November 22nd)
Final Score: San Diego 32, Denver 3
Denver, CO (Sports Network) - LaDainian Tomlinson and Mike Tolbert scored rushing touchdowns and Nate Kaeding kicked four field goals, as San Diego downed Denver, 32-3, to win its fifth straight game and overtake the Broncos for first place in the AFC West.
The Chargers offense was less than spectacular with Philip Rivers throwing for 145 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-22 attempts, although, the ground game carried much of the load in the second half after a 20-3 lead was built up in the third quarter.
Of the 348 yards produced, 203 were of the rushing variety with Tomlinson accounting for 73 and Tolbert 58 as the Chargers (7-3) avenged a Week 6 loss to Denver that seemed to dampen their hopes of a fourth consecutive division title.
"We knew it was a long season and things happen. Anything is possible," said Tomlinson regarding the quick turnaround in the standings.
Heading in the other direction are the Broncos (6-4), who have lost each of their four games since beating San Diego, 34-23, to begin the season 6-0 for a seemingly comfortable division lead.
Denver's quarterback situation took center stage early on as Chris Simms made his first start in over three years for the injured Kyle Orton but proved ineffective.
Orton, who severely sprained his left ankle in last week's loss to Washington, was summoned late in the second quarter and limped his way through the rest of the game, completing 15-of-29 passes for 171 yards with an interception. Simms was just 2-of-4 for 10 yards, but lost a fumble in the red zone on Denver's opening drive.
Knowshon Moreno rushed 10 times for 80 yards and also lost a fumble in the end zone stretching for the goal line in the first half. Brandon Marshall had just three catches for 26 yards and appeared to be confrontational during the game with both Orton and Moreno.
Simms led the Broncos to the Charger 17 on the game's opening drive, but was sacked by Shaun Phillips and fumbled.
San Diego took over on its own 31 and was quickly in the end zone on Rivers' two-yard TD pass to Legadu Naanee with six minutes left in the first. A 17- yard pass to Malcolm Floyd coupled with a roughing the passer call on 3rd- and-4 helped set up a fresh set of downs at the five.
A sack of Simms by Kevin Burnett on 3rd-and-10 ended Denver's next drive and San Diego came back to drive 46 yards in 11 plays to take a 10-0 lead on Kaeding's 28-yard field goal.
Simms and the Broncos produced a three-and-out and gave the ball back to the Chargers, who quickly produced an additional three points with Kaeding's 47- yard boot.
Head coach Josh McDaniels had seen all he wanted of Simms and turned to Orton for a spark. It worked in the interim as he moved Denver down to the San Diego four-yard line with a series of crisp passes, including a 38-yard completion to Jabar Gaffney.
"We just talked about it and it was something we were going to change a few things that we were doing anyway, and in terms of what we were going to do to attack them that was probably going to suit Kyle okay at that point," McDaniels said of the change. "Less under center, more in the shotgun, and that kind of dictated that we at least think about the decision to go ahead and put him in there."
However, the hosts coughed it up again as Moreno tried to stretch over a pile of bodies for the end zone on the very next play. Jacques Cesaire got a mit on it to jar it loose and Steve Gregory fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchback just before the two-minute warning.
"Any time you get down there in the red zone four times and come away with three points...those are plays that if you make them then you know you end up with points, maybe touchdowns and if you don't, obviously you have no momentum and you give away an opportunity," McDaniels said.
Denver got the ball back with 23 seconds still on the clock, but Orton was picked off along the left sideline by Antonio Cromartie.
Matt Prater's 23-yard field goal capped off a nine-play, 59-yard Denver drive for what looked to be a promising start to the second half.
However, San Diego extended its lead to 20-3 on the ensuing possession with Tomlinson's one-yard score.
"Last week I said I thought we played our most complete game, but now I think this is our most complete game," said Chargers head coach Norv Turner. "We put a lot of pressure on our guys. The first time we played these guys I thought our coverage was outstanding. Defensively we just keep getting better."
Orton went back to work but could only move the offense as far as the opposing 40 before a fourth-down pass intended for Gaffney fell incomplete.
The Chargers took over with 3:51 left in the third and embarked on a drive that Kaeding ended with a 28-yard boot three plays into the fourth to gain a 23-3 advantage.
A three-and-out for the Broncos helped set up yet another Kaeding kick and a lengthy Denver series again ended without points. The hosts took three shots at the end zone from the San Diego 19 -- the final two to Marshall -- but couldn't convert.
Denver had one last fruitless series that netted all of eight yards before Tolbert's eight-yard TD run with 34 seconds to play wrapped up a Chargers win.
Broncos safety Brian Dawkins left the game in the second quarter with a neck injury and did not return...Denver had won seven of the last nine at home versus San Diego...The Chargers have won six of eight overall in the series... San Diego captured its fifth consecutive divisional road win...Cromartie has three interceptions in the last four games...San Diego's Vincent Jackson led all receivers with 56 yards on four receptions...Denver's Eddie Royal had a team-high four catches for 29 yards while Gaffney totaled 55 yards on three grabs in the loss...The Broncos were just 2-of-9 on third down. San Diego wasn't much better, converting 5-of-13 attempts...Denver accumulated 271 yards of offense and committed nine penalties for 65 yards compared with San Diego's lone penalty for 15 yards.
11/22 21:23:59 ET
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