by Nate Winkler (@natewinkler)
CHFF Western Omelette Expert
The Denver Broncos went into halftime with the San Diego Chargers right where they wanted them, up by 24 and feeling as comfortable as Uncle George after he unzips his pants and plants himself on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner. Peyton Manning put on a MVP-worthy performance in the second half as the Broncos stormed the castle and stole Philip Rivers flag, pride, and the game on a historic Monday night.
Here are 5 Things we learned:
1. Sorry John Elway and Dan Marino, but Peyton Manning is the king of the comeback.
After failing to capitalize against Atlanta, Houston, and New England, games in which the Broncos also had 20+ point deficits, the formula for a comeback was perfected Monday night against the Chargers. The Broncos' new quarterback tied a Broncos record with his fourth straight 300 yard passing game (something Elway never did) and is now tied with Dan Marino for the NFL record in fourth quarter comebacks with 47. According to CHFF's own Captain Comeback, Manning now stands alone as the NFL's leader in fourth quarter come from behind victories, and yes, there is a difference.
After the game, John Fox was quoted as saying he'd never been involved in a more spectacular second half of football in his career. Whatever he told the Broncos at halftime (likely something to the tune of, "hey guys, you're going to get me fired.") worked, as Manning and company scored touchdowns on their first three offensive possessions of the second half and the defense played at a level that we hadn't seen yet this season.
2. Remember when people used to think Philip Rivers was an elite NFL quarterback?
Rivers walked off the field in disgust after throwing his fourth interception of the game, which was returned for the game-sealing touchdown by Broncos' cornerback Chris Harris. Rivers tossed his mouthpiece up in the air and it fell harmlessly to the ground, one of the few throws he made in the second half of Monday night's game that didn't come down in the arms of a Bronco.
Never before in his career had Rivers thrown four interceptions in one game, and he added two fumbles courtesy of Elvis Dumervil to give the Broncos six take-aways for the first time since 2006. Rivers finished 25 of 41 for 242 yards but was also sacked four times. His Negative Pass Play Percentage of 17.7% is what allowed the Broncos to get back into the game and his 54.2 Passer Rating isn't even the lowest of this season (45.2 vs. Atlanta).
3. It's hard to have two halves of football that are more different than we saw Monday Night.
Nothing went right for the Broncos in the first half after their first drive ended in a three-and-out. Newly acquired Trindon Holliday muffed his first punt return as a Bronco, setting up the first Chargers points, then the subsequent kickoff was fumbled by rookie returner Omar Bolden. The Broncos have fumbled the ball 10 times this season and lost all 10, an amazing feat in itself. When the Broncos finally did get something going, Eric Decker was tackled by a ghost on what should have been a sure touchdown. Three plays later Matt Willis mis-read Peyton Manning's pre-snap adjustment and Manning threw the ball to Quentin Jammer, who took it the other way for a touchdown, making the score 17-0 instead of possibly 10-7.
Nothing went right for the Chargers in the second half, as five of their six drives resulted in a Philip Rivers turnover, and the other one was a three-and-out. Denver was able to get pressure on Rivers all night and as he's shown in recent history, he'll make bad decisions when flustered. Elvis Dumervil had his best game of the year with two sacks, both forcing fumbles. With Tracy Porter sidelined, the Broncos' secondary was supposed to be ripe for the picking, but Chris Harris and Tony Carter stepped up, recording three interceptions, a fumble recovery, and two defensive touchdowns between them. There's not a team in the NFL that goes four-deep at cornerback as well as the Broncos.
4. Norv Turner must have incriminating pictures of the Spanos family, because he's really not cut out for this head coaching thing.
The Chargers "Norved" themselves once again, a characteristic that's become all too commonplace for the dozens of San Diego faithful who flock to Qualcomm Stadium every week. After building a 24-0 lead at intermission Norv started the second half calling eight passes in the first two drives, something that will be second-guessed throughout the bye week. Instead of pounding the ball on the ground with Ryan Mathews and keeping control of the temp of the game, Turner was hell-bound on delivering the knockout blow and it ultimately backfired.
Monday night's loss was the kind that can change the make-up of an entire organization. The Chargers were seen as front-runners who had played inferior competition going into the game, and the loss drops them to 24th in our Quality Stats Power Rankings. Although there are still 10 games to play, it's hard to imagine a scenario where San Diego is able to heal it's psyche enough to overcome the Broncos.
5. You thought the Broncos were confident with "You Know Who" as their quarterback? You ain't seen nothing.
Time after time last season the Denver Broncos were able to find ways to eek out victories, largely despite their offense. Denver's defense made just enough plays to facilitate last-second miracles by Tim Tebow on their way to the division crown, but nobody feared the Broncos or their offense. This season the Broncos are basically spotting teams three touchdowns yet have had a chance to win every game they've played.That's called the "Manning Factor".
The hard part of their schedule is now behind them as the Broncos head to their bye week, and the Broncos are the highest ranked 3-3 team in our Power Rankings after Week 6. Denver has lost to three of the best teams in the NFL, Atlanta, Houston, and New England, during the Manning honeymoon period. Mike McCoy and company have proven they know how to take advantage of the bye week and the Broncos have placed themselves squarely on the short list of AFC contenders. Only two teams (Houston, Baltimore) in the AFC have winning records through six weeks, but when the cream finally rises the Broncos will be right in the thick of things.