DENVER --Chris Harris Jr. wasn't his usual self in the first half. He allowed the Chargers' second-longest gain before halftime, a 16-yard reception by Malcolm Floyd on an outside-shoulder throw from Philip Rivers. The catch followed Harris' slight stumble at the San Diego 26-yard-line as Floyd broke outside.
Other cornerbacks might be okay with a single misstep in a half. Not Harris, even though he had a valid excuse -- the impending birth of his first child, a daughter named Aria. Harris' wife, Leah, is scheduled for induced labor this weekend. As soon as Thursday's game ended, Harris headed home to pick her up and take her to a hospital.
It was as planned a birth as possible -- scheduled before the Broncos begin their first three-game road swing in nearly four years. But it's still a massive moment in life, and he couldn't stop thinking about it.
"I couldn't focus," said Harris. "I had a lot of things on my mind. But then, in the second half, I was just like, 'I've got to wake up and make a play for us.'"
It tok him just three plays to make it happen with an interception of Philip Rivers that set up the Broncos at their 49-yard-line, from which point they drove 51 yards in six plays to a touchdown that pushed their lead to two scores and pushed the Chargers into one-dimensional, comeback mode for the rest of the night.
"I knew Keenan Allen loves running digs," said Harris. "That was one of his favorite routes, and I just tried to break on it."
And Harris left Sports Authority Field at Mile High satisfied that he'd helped the Broncos overpower their rivals, and giddy with anticipation of how his life is about to forever change. Of course, he added that he still plans to watch film while he's with his wife at a local hospital.
But when Harris returns to work, he intends to be better, a daunting notion for receivers he faces.
"I think I'm going to just have more hunger, more drive, just more wanting to be able to feed my family, and more desire," he said. "I'm already a hungry player, and already very motivated, so this is going to add even more."
Harris' coverage helped the Broncos accomplish two of the three keys identified before the game, which we now revisit:
- PREVENTING THE LONG DRIVES.**
In defeating the Broncos last December, San Diego mounted three possessions that consumed at least six and a half minutes. Because Denver's offense could not respond, the Chargers turned the contest into a game of keep away that they won, powering them to the postseason.
That did not happen Thursday, and Harris' interception had much to do with it. The Chargers followed a touchdown drive that chewed up seven minutes, 31 seconds with a 31-second series at the end of the first half and a quick three-play cameo after halftime that ended with Harris' interception.
The touchdown march that followed ensured that the Chargers had to ditch deliberate tempo from their game plan. Unable to play the clock-chewing game, the Broncos had them where they wanted them.
2. ATTACK, AND NEGATE CHARGERS PRESSURE.
The Broncos didn't score on their first series, but they threw down a gauntlet of attacking football, opening with four wide receivers, tight end Julius Thomas and no running backs to try and catch the Chargers off guard.
Check out the best shots from Thursday night's game between the Broncos and Chargers.
With a variety of formations and personnel groupings, and a willingness to test the Chargers deep, Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase kept the pressure on. San Diego dialed up its array of creative blitzes, but few worked, and Peyton Manning was rarely hit, never sacked and as efficient as usual.
3. DISRUPT PHILIP RIVERS.
In the final sum, Rivers had a solid game: three touchdowns, 252 yards and a completion rate of 73.1 percent. Two interceptions marred it, but the final one was on a deep go route for Floyd with under five minutes remaining and a 14-point deficit, an optimistic pass in desperate circumstances.
But the Broncos did knock the Chargers off balance as they built their lead. They finished the game with seven passes defensed, six hits of Rivers and two sacks. He did not lead consecutive scoring drives until the third and fourth quarters -- both of which came with 21-point deficits.
It was not the pass-rush party that last Sunday's romp over San Francisco became, but the efficient pressure and often outstanding coverage from Harris and his secondary comrades knocked Rivers off rhythm just enough to prevent a shootout.