SAN DIEGO -- Less than three minutes into Monday night's game between the Broncos and Chargers, Denver had jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
In six plays -- three runs and three passes -- the Broncos drove 69 yards down the field in a drive culminated by a 4-yard
"It felt awesome after that first series," said
The quick start harkened back to last week's 49-29 win against the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, and it appeared the Broncos were poised to jump right back in the thick of the division race.
Then the Chargers made some adjustments that
"Give them credit,"
San Diego set up their first points of the game with a trick play that caught Denver a bit off guard. After the defense forced a fourth down, Mike Scifres lined up for his second punt of the game. But the punter instead lofted a pass downfield for Mike Tolbert, who scampered 28 yards to give the Chargers a first down at the Denver 31-yard line.
"When you have sudden change like that as a defense, whether it's a turnover or whatever it may be, you've got to stand up and get a stop," said
Six plays later -- including two third-down conversions -- the fake punt resulted in Rivers' first touchdown pass of the day. The San Diego signal caller finished the game with four, completing 15-of-24 passes for 233 yards and a quarterback rating of 116.8.
Rivers spread the ball around to seven different receivers in Monday's game, often on short passes that turned into big gains.
Rivers' favorite target on the day was a running back -- Darren Sproles, who picked up the majority of his 60 receiving yards on screen passes. Mike Tolbert got involved in the screen game as well, picking up 42 yards through the air in addition to his 111 on the ground.
The game's leading receiver, Patrick Crayton, scored on a quick screen pass that resulted in a 40-yard sprint to the end zone.
"He's a great player," Head Coach Josh McDaniels said of Rivers. "He made some plays, they made some plays for him -- they had some run-after-the-catch plays. Tackling was a problem for us tonight, certainly. We didn't get them on the ground when we had opportunities to make short gains short gains. We gave up too many yards after they caught the ball, and this is one of the best teams in the league at that. We knew that going in and we didn't do a good enough job at stopping it."
On the other side, the Broncos couldn't get anything going on offense after the opening drive, due in part by their inability to convert on third down.
Denver faced 12 third downs after that early lead, and converted just one of them. Part of the problem, Orton said, were the kind of third downs they were facing.
"We lived in third-and-long, and that's what we didn't do against Kansas City," the quarterback said. "We didn't live in third-and-long, we didn't hurt ourselves, we didn't have penalties, we didn't turn the ball over. All those things we did tonight. That's a recipe for disaster."
The team converted its only fourth-down attempt, a 13-yard strike from Orton to Lloyd midway through the fourth quarter for Denver's second touchdown of the day, but it came too late for Denver to put a scare into San Diego.
Monday's loss left the Broncos at the bottom of the AFC West standings, and though the division race is far from over, the team knows it can't afford to let many more opportunities pass by.
"It's definitely a bitter, bitter feeling," Hunter said. "Especially with how well we played last week against Kansas City, to come out here and have this happen, it's a setback. But we still have more games left. We've got to keep fighting, just come back ready to work and have everybody do what they've got to do to help this team win."
"We just have to come back with a positive attitude and get ready for St. Louis."