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Manning, Broncos complete sweep of Chargers

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DENVER -- Peyton Manning got some help from his defense in shrugging off an early mistake.

Manning overcame a first-quarter interception that was returned for a score to throw for three touchdowns, and the Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 30-23 Sunday to complete the first series sweep of their AFC West rival in seven years.

"Certainly our defense created some turnovers, created good field position, and my hat's off to them," Manning said. "All those guys played great. I can't say enough about how well they played and how well they have been playing."

Von Miller especially. He increased his season sack total to a league-leading and career-high 13 with three more on Sunday, twice forcing fumbles by Philip Rivers, including one that set up a touchdown. Miller led a strong defensive effort that saw the Broncos deny San Diego's first 12 third-down attempts, stretching their streak to 26 in a row spanning the past three games before Chargers finally converted one.

"He's definitely someone you have to account for," Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said of Miller. "The ability that he has and the explosiveness that he has coming off that edge, that gives them a different element. Then you add guys like Elvis Dumervil and Champ Bailey to the equation, and D.J. Williams can help out. You have a group of guys who can come out and make plays."

It was the fifth win in a row for the division-leading Broncos (7-3), who began their streak when they roared back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat the Chargers 35-24 at San Diego on Oct. 15.

Denver leads San Diego (4-6) by three games in the division with six to play.

"It's great," Miller said. "We've got bigger goals. Who knows what they might be. We're just going to keep taking it one week at a time, and we'll see where it takes us."

Sunday's loss was the latest damaging blow for San Diego. With the Chargers' playoff hopes fading, questions are swirling around the future of coach Norv Turner.

"We had our chances early, and that's where I think we hurt ourselves," Rivers said. "Our defense played them really well. We kept getting opportunities offensively, and we couldn't get anything going."

Rivers fought through a tough day, failing to convert a third down until the second half and taking four sacks while throwing two interceptions and fumbling three times, losing one. He finished 24 of 40 for 258 yards and two touchdowns, both to Danario Alexander, including a 21-yarder with 1:24 remaining.

Following the late touchdown, Chargers tried an onside kick, but Virgil Green recovered for Denver. After the Broncos were forced to punt, San Diego got the ball back on its 13-yard line with 23 seconds remaining. Dumervil had a second-down sack of Rivers, and time ran out.

"Their defense is awesome," Alexander said. "They've got great players in their front seven who are great at rushing the passer, and they've got some pretty good DBs. Their defense, we've got to give them credit. They came at us hard."

Manning completed 25 of 42 passes for 270 yards. He increased his career touchdown-pass total to 423, giving him sole possession of second place on the all-time list. He also moved into a tie for second place all time with Hall of Famer and current Broncos executive John Elway with his 148th regular-season victory.

"I've said it before: John Elway was one of my favorites growing up, and he still is one of my favorite quarterbacks," Manning said. "I feel honored to be in the same organization that he is part of. But it's a lot of team wins, and certainly to be part of seven wins this year ... I'm grateful for a lot of people's help, coaches and players."

Denver also got a lift from the return of Williams, the linebacker who served NFL-imposed suspensions for the first nine games of the season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and for an alcohol-related arrest.

Williams, who resumed practicing with the team this week, had a couple of key tackles, including a tackle for loss of Ryan Mathews to help Denver register a stop after the Chargers recovered an onside kick to open the second half.

Backed up near their own end zone after a San Diego punt, the Broncos gave up a safety when linebacker Shaun Phillips sacked Manning in the end zone, pulling the Chargers to within 17-9 with 12:48 left in the third quarter.

Miller had a hand in stalling San Diego's momentum, swooping in on a bull rush to sack Rivers and knock the ball loose. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard scooped up the fumble and returned it 12 yards to the San Diego 25-yard line, leading to Manning's third touchdown pass of the day, a 20-yarder to Eric Decker.

Rivers regrouped to lead a long touchdown drive that ended in an 8-yard scoring pass to Alexander.

Denver regained a double-digit advantage when Matt Prater kicked the second of his three field goals, a 30-yarder with 10:43 left in the fourth quarter.

San Diego struck first, with safety Eric Weddle intercepting a deflected Manning pass and returning it 23 yards for a touchdown. Denver ran off the next 17 points, including a second Manning touchdown pass following a block of a San Diego punt, to go in front 17-7 at halftime.

NOTES: A second-quarter replay reversal gave Demaryius Thomas a 13-yard touchdown reception. The changed call gave Manning his 421st career touchdown pass, moving him ahead of Dan Marino for second on the all-time list. He trails only Brett Favre, who threw 508 touchdown passes. ... Broncos rookie defensive back Omar Bolden suffered a concussion in the first quarter and was held out for the remainder of the game. ... Denver running back Willis McGahee did not return after going out with a knee injury in the second quarter. ... San Diego linebacker Larry English suffered a leg injury in the second quarter and did not return. ... In the second quarter, Nate Irving blocked a punt, the first for Denver since Tony Scheffler blocked one, also against San Diego, on Oct. 7, 2007. ... The Chargers have two wins in their past eight games, both against Kansas City.
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