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Chargers back to fringe of playoff picture

The SportsXchange

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- The San Diego Chargers' Thursday night victory in Denver is easy to explain in three letters: W-O-W.

"Not a lot of people outside our locker room gave us a chance," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "And if I was outside it, I wouldn't either."

But Rivers was in the thick of the Chargers' 27-20 upset of the Broncos, which has given the Bolts and jolt.

The Chargers were about a 10-point underdog. A season that had been up-and-down seemed destined to be down-and-out as loss No. 8 would have placed the nail in the team's postseason coffin.

Instead the Chargers hogged the ball, didn't let Denver quarterback Peyton Manning do his thing and produced one of the more unexpected victories in recent memory.

"It was a team win," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said.

McCoy, the Broncos' former offensive coordinator, was content to keep the ball in running back Ryan Mathews' gut. Not only did Mathews put together another 100-yard game, but it kept Manning's mitts off the football.

But the Chargers were running on momentum as well. They had beaten Manning's brother, Eli, and the Giants, in the previous game. And in a 28-20 loss to Denver earlier in the year, the Chargers didn't get the win, but gained the confidence that they could hang with these Broncos.

"Hey, let's go play and see what happens," Rivers said of the team's mindset before the game.

They did more than play. They dominated the Broncos on both side of the ball and now will cheer against the Ravens and Dolphins, the teams ahead of them for the AFC's final wild-card spot.

Wild? That could be description of the Chargers breaking the Broncos' 13-game, regular-season home winning streak.

Wild? That would be handing Peyton Manning his first loss to an AFC West foe, snapping that 10-game run.

Wild card? That would be what the Chargers are still chasing.

Mathews went over the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. He had 127 yards and a score on 29 carries.

"He is running the football downhill," coach Mike McCoy said.

Mathews, Adrian Peterson (Vikings) and LeSean McCoy (Eagles) are the only backs this season with five, 100-yard games this season.

Rivers is now 6-2 at Denver and 27-6 in the month of December in his career.

The Chargers are off until Monday, when they begin preparation for the visiting Oakland Raiders. Both of the Chargers' final games are at home against AFC West rivals, with the Kansas City Chiefs due in after the Raiders.

NOTES: The Chargers used a lot of nickel coverage against Manning. Defensive back Marcus Gilchrist became the nickel back with Johnny Patrick out. Before Gilchrist was moved to strong safety, that was his role with the team, and he performed well by getting a sack and six tackles. . . Wide receiver Keenan Allen is making a strong bid for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, and he had two touchdown catches in as many receptions against Denver.
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