Jack Del Rio's First Game as Interim Head Coach
With Head Coach John Fox recovering from heart surgery, Jack Del Rio has taken on interim head coaching duties in addition to his job as the team's defensive coordinator.
While the Broncos' thoughts are with their head coach, the transition to Del Rio's leadership has not hampered the team's preparation.
"It's very easy to see why he's been a head coach for 10-plus years," quarterback Demaryius Thomas said. "He's got great leadership, good command of the room and Jack's a good leader. I think guys will answer the bell and follow him."
Del Rio will still call the defensive plays during the game, while adding clock-management and other situational decisions to his plate.
"I think we've got a good group; we've got a good veteran core and good leaders we've talked about, a good staff," Del Rio said. "I think what happens is typically what happens when something goes on that causes a void, that we all work hard to kind of collectively fill the void and help each other out. That's really the sense that I get."
Many players pointed to Fox's energy as the one aspect they will miss the most with him gone.
"It is probably impossible to replace Coach Fox's high-energy, charisma, personality," Manning said. "So that cannot be replaced by one guy and Coach Del Rio mentioned that. All of the players, everybody has to try to step that up in that department to fill that void."
"At the same time, when it's time to work out there, guys are working and we're following Coach Del Rio's lead."
Last time Denver and San Diego played, Mike McCoy was the Broncos' offensive coordinator and Quentin Jammer, Shaun Phillips and Louis Vasquez were all Chargers.
Fast forward a year and those three players are all Broncos and McCoy is the Chargers' head coach.
"It will be (an) interesting deal," Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said. "It will be odd seeing him on the other sideline. (This is the) first time in four years that we haven't worked together. I know it doesn't seem like a long time to other people, but when you're together every day for four straight years it's a different feeling."
In addition, Eddie Royal leads the Chargers with a career-best seven touchdowns this year, which is his second in San Diego after four in Denver to start his career.
"That's just something that is common in football all the time," Manning said of the two-way familiarity. "When you have players that you played with and you have good assistant coaches that you've played for it's just a matter of time. Tom Telesco was an assistant executive general manager for us (in Indianapolis) and now he's the head GM (in San Diego). So I'm happy for those guys and that's just part of football."
Jammer, Phillips and Vasquez combined for 24 seasons with the Chargers. All three were drafted by San Diego and played their entire careers there before joining the Broncos this season.
All three started for San Diego both games the Chargers and Broncos squared off in 2012. Phillips recorded nine tackles, one sack and three tackles for a loss and Jammer had an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown to go with five tackles in the two matchups.
"It feels good," Phillips said about returning to San Diego. "I made a lot of money and a lot of plays and made a lot of friends in San Diego. The fun part is going back to play against your old friends, not really the old team."
Philip vs. Phillips
For the first time since the 2004 Senior Bowl, Shaun Phillips will be allowed to hit Philip Rivers.
The pair entered the league as rookies together with the Chargers and spent nine seasons (2004-12) as teammates in San Diego.
"We played against each other in the Senior Bowl and we were jawing back and forth," Phillips recalled. "I think I hit him one play and the next play he threw a pass and he jawed back at me. So it's just all out of friendly competition in football and I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a hit or two on him and I'm pretty sure he's looking to make a play or two on me. It'll be a little bit of jawing back and forth but all out of love because I admire Philip and I think he's a great person and a great player."
Thus far in 2013, Rivers has been enjoying a career year. The 10th-year passer is on pace to set or match career highs in just about every passing category.
Rivers leads the NFL with a 72.2 percent completion rate, which would establish a new NFL single-season record.
"It shows that he's more efficient with his passing," Phillips said. "He's not going to just go out there and throw up a couple passes. He's going out there to win, he's going out there to compete to win because it's a division opponent and it's a home game for them. It's just a big game."
Phillips is enjoying success to start his first season in Denver as well, leading the club with 6.5 sacks. He is on pace for a career high in that category and has added an interception and three pass breakups.
"I'm in a great situation," Phillips said. "7-1, we're going to play a good team down in San Diego and I'm still playing football. I love playing football."
"I just want to go out there and win. Winning makes everything feel good."
Back to Where the Streak Began
Last time Denver traveled to San Diego, the team entered the locker room trailing 24-0 at halftime and was looking at taking a 2-4 record into the bye week with a loss.
"That was one of my favorite games of all time," tight end Joel Dreessen said. "I've never been a part of something like that where we were down 24-0 at half, everyone's in trouble at halftime, we get sent to our lockers and we come out and just everything is working. It was just such a fun, fun half to come back and be a part of."
The comeback win started what became an 11-game win streak to end the 2012 season. Denver is 18-1 in the regular season including their last trip to San Diego, which represents the best record in the NFL in that span.
"I think the record speaks for itself. It was a tremendous turnaround," Del Rio said. "It was a pivotal point in the year. We kind of found ourselves at that point and have played great since. We go back and we understand that they did things that put us behind and we didn't do some things we need to that put us behind. Anytime you do that, you're in the NFL, a team is very capable of putting you in a hole."
Divisional Stretch Begins
Through the first half of the season, the Broncos played only one game against an AFC West opponent – a 37-21 win vs. Oakland in Week 3.
That means five of the final eight games on the schedule will be against division rivals. This week's matchup at San Diego kicks off a stretch where Denver plays three of its next four games against AFC West clubs.
After the Week 10 game against the Chargers, the Broncos return home to face Kansas City on Sunday Night Football. Then after another Sunday night matchup at New England, the Broncos will take on the Chiefs again the following week in Kansas City.
"Everyone always says you are what your record says you are," Dreessen said. "Right now, we've got to treat (the Chiefs) like the best. They're 9-0. Obviously, the Chargers are right there in the thick of things. We're sitting in second place, which is not where we want to be. And then the Raiders are playing really well at times, too."
Fox likes to break the season into quarters with the goal to go 3-1 in each segment of the schedule.
This is an especially daunting four-game stretch as the combined records of Denver's next four opponents is 29-6 (.829 pct.).
"The number one goal is to win the division," Dreessen said. "And that's still in front of us."