Those who stuck with the Broncos-Chargers game on Monday night after San Diego took a 24-0 lead into the locker room at halftime were treated to perhaps one of Peyton Manning’s most scintillating second-half showings.
They also became witnesses to Chargers head coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith writing their own obituaries on their tenures in San Diego.
Solid in the first half with the exception of a pick-six that likely falls on WR Matt Hillis, Manning was machine-like in the final 30 minutes, leading his Broncos on three consecutive scoring drives — of 85, 70 and 45 yards — all capped by TDs. Paired with Tony Carter’s 65-yard fumble return late in the third quarter, Manning’s frenetic comeback remarkably turned a 24-point halftime deficit into a 28-24 lead in barely under 18 minutes.
We saw absolutely vintage Manning, deftly avoiding pressure by sliding, shuffling, and, yes, even hurdling a fallen defender one play before a 7-yard Eric Decker bubble screen went for a score.
Manning, as he so often does, identified single coverage on to his right on the next touchdown, throwing an absolutely picture perfect 21-yard fade to Brandon Stokley for a score.
Manning's second-half stat line: 13-of-14 for 167 yards, three TDs, zero INTs.
You can’t make this stuff up.
And despite it all, Manning adding another chapter to his storied career and proving that the Broncos are absolutely the team to beat out west, I was most stunned by the failures of Chargers QB Philip Rivers and Turner.
You see, it takes two to tango, or in this case, blow a 24-point halftime lead.
After a sterling first-half in which he finally rekindled the flame with Antonio Gates, finding the future Hall of Famer for his first two TDs of the season, Rivers had perhaps his greatest meltdown in his nine-year career after the intermission.
Three second-half picks — all falling squarely on Rivers — and a lost fumble led to 28 unanswered points for the Broncos, inviting Denver to pull off a seemingly insurmountable road comeback.
I was in the camp that thought Rivers would bounce back with a big 2012 campaign, on the heels of arguably his worst season as a pro. Instead, Rivers has carried over the disturbing trend from a season ago, recklessly taking care of the football and continuing to look like his fastball is gone.
He wasn’t alone in his recklessness.
Someone please explain to me how Turner only gives Ryan Mathews the football seven times in the second half with a 24-point lead and Manning on the opposite sideline? San Diego, criminally, only rushed 11 times overall in the final 30 minutes.
There is a lot of football left to play, but I just don’t see a scenario where the Bolts recover from this crippling upset loss at home, particularly with Manning and Rivers clearly going in opposite directions.
Barring a miraculous turnaround and postseason berth, San Diego will be cleaning house after the season. That likely isn't limited to Turner and Smith; the search for Rivers' replacement is also on the horizon.