Broncos-Chargers: What we learned
SAN DIEGO -- Whatever momentum the Denver Broncos had, they didn't misplace it over their bye week. Now they hope they will not lose quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 28-20 Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium, but the later stages of the victory came with some anxious moments.
Manning was hit in his right leg by defensive lineman Corey Liuget while completing a pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas with less than two minutes to play, and Manning was limping afterward. He didn't exit the game, but he did argue with officials when a penalty wasn't called.
Manning will undergo an MRI exam Monday morning on what is believed to be an injured right ankle.
Manning didn't clarify what happened or which body part was bothering him.
"I don't know," he said. "Somebody was around my feet, so I'll have to see the play. I'm pretty sore; he kind of got me twice."
Liuget stressed he wasn't trying to hurt Manning.
"He was trying to tell the ref something, but the center was on me and I tried to tackle him but I got tripped up and I fell into his leg," Liuget said. "It wasn't intentional at all, and I want to apologize to him."
Manning continued to build his candidacy for his fifth MVP award by throwing for four touchdowns and 330 yards. He completed 25 of 36 passes and was not intercepted. Three of Manning's touchdown passes went to Thomas (seven catches, 108 yards) as the tandem took turns exposing numerous San Diego defensive backs.
"If you look at every game, he is one of the best receivers in the league, without a doubt," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "He is a great player, but you got to do a better job on him."
The Chargers, trailing 28-6, rallied in the second half. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to running back Danny Woodhead, and running back Ryan Mathews added a 1-yard touchdown run to make it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.
However, the Chargers (4-5) got no closer. Rivers finished 19 of 29 for 218 yards and a touchdown.
Denver (8-1) played without head coach John Fox, who underwent heart surgery last week. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio took over Fox's duties. The Broncos awarded Fox, who remains in North Carolina, a game ball.
"We look forward to giving it to him in person," Manning said.
What the Broncos said
"Great play calling. They gave me a chance to make plays. I tried to get open for my quarterback and get in the end zone every time I had the ball. We had a bye week and we had a week to prepare for this (game). We drew up some new plays and it worked." -- WR Demaryius Thomas, after he had a game-high 108 receiving yards and three touchdowns on seven receptions.
What the Chargers said
"It's a new football team. Very similar to here. I'm not worried about how they were last year. We have to try and find a way to beat them this year. They're very well-coached, I know that. John Fox has done an outstanding job there. It was a great job by the staff. They do a phenomenal job. It's a very good football team." -- Chargers coach Mike McCoy, on the Broncos. McCoy was Denver's offensive coordinator last year.
What we learned about the Broncos
1. Of course, the main thing is if quarterback Peyton Manning is OK. After throwing for four touchdowns and 330 yards, Manning was injured on a late completion when he was hit in his lower body by Chargers DE Corey Liuget. Manning will undergo an MRI on Monday morning. Backup QB Brock Osweiler took some snaps along the sidelines but never entered the game. Manning said he'll be fine for next Sunday night's showdown with the first-place and undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. "I totally plan on it," Manning said.
2. It's clear it was an emotional week for the Broncos, as they prepared for the Chargers without their head coach. John Fox didn't attend any of the practices as he recovers from heart surgery. Fox is known as a players' coach and it was clear the team, as well as the coaching staff, had him in their thoughts. When talking about team depth, that subject is usually reserved for players. But the coaching staff is deep, as well. "Collectively we all pulled together and realized that Coach (Fox) wasn't here and we would need to have each other's backs to work through this thing to come in here and get a win," said coach Jack Del Rio, the team's interim head coach.
What we learned about the Chargers
1. The Chargers have a situation at left tackle. For the third time this season, LT King Dunlap suffered a concussion; he also sustained one last year when with the Eagles. With Dunlap going down, he's being replaced by rookie D.J. Fluker, who switches over from right tackle. Fluker has the size, but his agility could make him a liability against speed rushers. To compound matters, C Nick Hardwick left the game with a neck injury in the third quarter. So the reshuffled line had RG Jeromey Clary sliding outside to right tackle, Chad Rinehart at right guard and Rich Ohrnberger filling in for Hardwick. LG Johnnie Troutman was the only lineman to start and finish in the same position along the line.
2. The Chargers have lost their patience with CB Derek Cox. After being among their few high-priced free agents picked up in the offseason, the Chargers haven't got much of a return on their $20 million investment. Cox has been getting beat with regularity and, after he got snookered on a first-quarter 74-yard scoring completion from Peyton Manning to Julius Thomas, Cox was pointed toward the bench. Cox was also benched in the previous game against the Redskins. Cox was later inserted briefly back into the lineup when Shareece Wright was hurt in second quarter.