SAN DIEGO – When the Chargers took a 24-0 lead late in the second quarter, they put the Broncos in what has become a familiar predicament through the first six weeks of the season.
Denver's 24-point hole required the team to do what it nearly managed against the Falcons, Texans and Patriots – win a game despite falling significantly behind.
"We've been in similar situations before," linebacker Von Miller said. "The outcome wasn't the same, but we still had confidence in those games. We still knew what type of team we were."
The frantic comebacks that eventually fell short against the Texans and Falcons showed the team's persistence. But the 35-0 performance the Broncos turned in after halftime Monday in San Diego showcased more than the team's resiliency – it showed how dominant the Broncos can be when executing to the best of their ability.
"That's what it was – belief," defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. "Belief in each other, belief in our scheme, belief in our defense, belief in our unit. Then we all came out and played like it. When we play like that, we're hard to stop."
In the second half, the Broncos looked like a different team than the one that fell behind 24-0 before intermission. But it wasn't because of a dramatic halftime speech or any memorable antics in the locker room. The message that rallied the team was a simple one.
"(Head) Coach (John) Fox just said believe," wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "Believe we can come back. … I think everybody was a little embarrassed about that first half."
Almost immediately, it became apparent that that faith was well-placed. The Broncos' first drive of the second half covered 85 yards in just eight plays, with quarterback Peyton Manning going four-for-four on the drive, which he finished with a 29-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
"I think what really kind of started us off was to be able to go down the field to start the third quarter," Head Coach John Fox said. "I thought Peyton and the offense did an outstanding job and so did (Offensive Coordinator) Mike McCoy and his offensive staff."
The comeback received a major jolt on the following possession, when a sack by defensive end Elvis Dumervil jarred the ball free and led to a 65-yard return for a touchdown by cornerback Tony Carter.
"I tried to run with him, but I couldn't," Dumervil said of his thoughts during the play. "He's one of the fastest guys on the team. Tony Carter has been playing great all year for us. He stepped up today, his name was called and he was able to make some big plays for us."
Though Carter's touchdown was easily the biggest play of the game when it happened, it ended up as just one of a number of memorable second-half moments for the Broncos.
Carter's fumble recovery was the second of a season-high six turnovers forced by the Denver defense and one of two defensive touchdowns on the night. After forcing one first-half takeaway – an interception by safety Jim Leonhard – the Broncos picked off San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers three times after halftime and also forced him into two fumbles.
"You can't beat it," Leonhard said of the flurry of big plays. "That's team football right there. You can feel it every time we get a turnover and go down and score a touchdown. Everything just starts snowballing and that's a great feeling. There's no better feeling in sports when you know you have completely stole the momentum from a team and it's going to be very hard for them to come back from."
Though the secondary came up with the game's biggest plays – including four interceptions and a pair of touchdowns – cornerback Champ Bailey said the unit owed a great deal of its success to a strong second half pass rush.
"The pressure, man," Bailey said when asked to explain Denver's interceptions. "I can't take anything away from Tony Carter and Chris Harris. They played great, they made plays that they had to make. But the guys up front, they make it easier for us on the back end. It's never easy playing in the secondary, but when you have a front like that, it definitely takes a little pressure off."
While the Broncos' pass rush was able to relieve pressure for the secondary, it had the opposite effect on the San Diego offense.
"I knew they did," Bailey said of whether his teammates were able to affect Philip Rivers. "I could tell just by how his balls were coming out, how he was rushing his throws. These guys, man, when they smell it, they go get it."
Not to be outdone, the Broncos offense moved the ball at will down the stretch, as Manning finished the night 24-for-30 for 309 yards and three touchdowns, good for a quarterback rating of 129.0 The three scores included a 7-yarder to wide receiver Eric Decker on a screen pass that brought the Broncos to within three points and a highlight-reel, go-ahead strike to leaping wide receiver Brandon Stokley.
"You like to see your hard work kind of pay off with a win," Manning said. "It's not easy when you work hard and work hard and keep coming close. It's like Coach Fox said, 'We don't get paid to work hard, we get paid to win.'"