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Broncos 22, Chargers 10: Three Keys, Unlocked

SAN DIEGO --In the coming days, there will be time to ruminate about the Broncos' red-zone offense, which settled for field goals on all three of its forays inside the San Diego 20-yard-line.

But that matter can wait.

For now, in the afterglow of a 22-10 win that clinched the Broncos' fourth consecutive AFC West crown, they're happy about extending their division dominance, matching the 1987-90 49ers' league record of consecutive road division wins and of crossing off the first item on their 2014 checklist.

"We're not going to act like we didn't just win the division," said running back C.J. Anderson, who plowed through traffic for 85 yards on 29 carries. "We're going to enjoy this."

And one of the newest Broncos, Connor Barth, helped make the celebration possible by ensuring the Broncos' red-zone forays were not fruitless, just like he did at Kansas City two weeks earlier.

Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium, Barth matched his 5-for-5 performance on field goals at Arrowhead Stadium. He's racked up 39 points in three weeks with the Broncos -- outscoring the 49ers, Raiders and Browns in that span.

No kick had more riding on it than the 49-yard attempt with 4:58 remaining in the game and the Broncos clinging to a six-point lead. A 13-yard Peyton Manning-to-Demaryius Thomas pass on the previous play got the Broncos out of a third-and-20 hole and moved the football to the San Diego 31, turning a field-goal attempt into a viable shot.

Pressure mounted, and Barth responded.

"That's kind of what we (kickers) live for," Barth said.

Check out the action from the second half of Sunday's big win over the Chargers.

He hit one more field goal to cap his perfect afternoon, which stood in contrast to San Diego's Nick Novak, who missed two of three attempts. Novak had a new holder, recently signed punter Mat McBriar, and while Novak refused to blame that for his misses, it usually takes time for a holder and kicker to become comfortable.

The emphasis is on "usually." That has not been the case for Barth, holder Britton Colquitt and long snapper Aaron Brewer. Barth praised them after his first day of practice, and their timing has only sharpened in the two and a half weeks that followed.

"They're great at their craft," said Barth. "I mean, it eases me into it, because I don't have to worry about a ball spinning when I'm looking at it. It's always really good with the laces. And Britton does such a good job getting it down.

"It's just true professionals. It's an honor to be in the locker room with these guys, and hopefully we'll continue to play well."

It wasn't perfect, but the Broncos played well in most aspects, as a look back at the Three Keys reveals:



After a first-possession strip-sack fumble by Melvin Ingram that left tackle Ryan Clady recovered, the Broncos emphasized protection of Manning when he went back to throw, frequently keeping Anderson in the backfield to block to give Manning extra time. It worked, because despite all the pre-snap movement from the Chargers, they only got to Manning once after that in the pass rush, although Donald Butler did hit Manning when the quarterback tried to block on Anderson's third-and-goal run late in the second quarter that came up two feet short.


Although the Broncos never sacked Philip Rivers, they made him uncomfortable, forcing him into checkdowns and throwaways from the start.

The penetration of Malik Jackson and Terrance Knighton up the middle forced the Chargers to confine most of their runs to the outside, and ensured that the Chargers didn't complete a pass any longer than 20 yards, continuing a recent Broncos trend of preventing explosive plays from the opposing offense.


The Chargers converted 6 of their 13 third-down attempts, hitting their season-long average, which ranks fourth in the league. But two of those conversions came on their final possession, when they trailed by two scores and were out of timeouts, allowing the Broncos to play back to prevent the big play and potentially create one of their own -- which they did when Rahim Moore shot forward and intercepted Rivers' pass to Antonio Gates with 1:56 remaining.

Until that last drive, the Broncos stopped San Diego on seven of 11 third downs, with a close correlation between yardage to gain an success. San Diego extended drives on 4 of 5 third downs when they had less than five yards to gain, and had another third-and-3 that they converted via a Broncos penalty. But the Broncos stopped them on their first six third downs when they needed at least five yards.

The Broncos only forced three long-yardage third downs of more than 5 yards, but their success at intermediate range ensured that the Chargers did not earn a first down on five of their 10 possessions.

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