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Broncos' win over Chargers sets up battle for first place with AFC West-leading Chiefs

DENVER — Earlier in the week, Head Coach Vic Fangio cautioned about looking too far ahead.

"I think if you try and get ahead of yourself, you're only setting yourself up for a fall," Fangio said Wednesday. "We've got to play this game to make the rest of them more meaningful."

The Broncos did play it — and they played it well, as they earned a 28-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. And in the process, they made their Week 13 matchup on "Sunday Night Football" against the Chiefs their most meaningful game of the season.

With a win in Kansas City, the Broncos would take over the division lead in the AFC West with five weeks to play on the season.

"It means a lot," Pat Surtain II said after Denver's win. "To go out there on 'Sunday Night Football' [in] prime time at Arrowhead Stadium, the main thing we're focused on is getting a win. It's another big-time divisional matchup and we're going to need to win games like this down the road."

Regardless of the Raiders' and Chargers' outcomes next week, a Denver victory would give the Broncos the tiebreak and put them at the top of their division. It would be the latest in the season that the Broncos held the division lead since 2015, when Denver won its most recent division title.

The group, though, must be ready to maintain its success. After a big win against the Cowboys in Week 9, Denver fell to the Eagles to fall back to .500 on the season. A date with the Chiefs in Arrowhead in December — and in prime time — is a much more daunting challenge; The Broncos may need to play their best game of the season to snap an 11-game losing streak to the Chiefs. A loss wouldn't end the Broncos' season, but a win could help make it. 

The mentality heading into Sunday's game against the Chargers was far more dire — and it helped fuel the team to its first division win in over a year.

"Today, the message before going into today's game [was] like, 'This is it. This is the season,'" safety Justin Simmons said. "'If we don't win today' — you hate to think about it like that — 'but if we don't win today, our season is on the line.' We had to get a win this game. I think that came out and guys were playing with a lot of passion and energy. We have to make sure we carry that over to next week."

That means an increased level of focus than the Broncos showed after their win over Dallas.

"We can't have a 'Dallas Week,'" Simmons said. "We had a good game against Dallas, and we came back the next week and kind of laid an egg against 'Philly' — they played well, too. For us, it means a lot going into next week. It's going to be a really good game. Another statement game. No matter what happens, we have to find a way to leave Arrowhead with a win."

Denver's lack of success against the Chiefs since 2015 only amplifies the desire to earn a win.

"Yeah. It's extremely personal," Simmons said. "No matter what I say up here — no matter how good it sounds, bad it sounds. You have to go deal with it. No one cares what it looks like. All anyone cares about is that win-loss column. That's what we have to do: find a way to win. We'll enjoy this tonight, look at the positives [and] obviously, look at the negatives. We're all in [on] next week."

So while the stakes may be quite high, the Broncos will continue to invest in each day of preparation to give themselves at another division upset.

"It's a great feeling, but we got work to do," Teddy Bridgewater said. "We have seven days until the next opportunity to go out and compete, so we got to make sure that we're maximizing and winning each day leading up to that game."

Despite a four-game losing streak, a 5-5 record at the bye and a slew of injuries, the Broncos are still in the mix.

"We seem to bring the adversity on us," Fangio said Sunday. "Even at the end of the half today we brought that on ourselves, and we just keep overcoming it. Hopefully, we keep playing meaningful games here moving forward. We've got six left … and a lot of big games. We're excited to be on the hunt. This is a resilient group."

The Broncos have earned the right to play in a big game. They might as well go win it.

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