SAN DIEGO --** Down 24-0 to the Chargers on the road Monday night, the game should've been all but over for Denver at halftime.
But no one told the Broncos.
Thirty-five unanswered points later, Denver left San Diego with a 35-24 victory -- tied for the largest comeback in team history -- that put the Broncos atop the AFC West entering their bye week.
"It really was a tale of two halves," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Just imagine what we can do if we don't put ourselves in a hole in the first half."
Trailing 10-0 late in the second quarter, Manning found wide receiver Eric Decker wide open down the middle of the field. With nothing but green grass between him and the end zone, Decker tripped, which gave defenders time to bring him down at the 30-yard line. Three plays later, Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer intercepted a Manning pass and took it 80 yards to the house for a defensive score -- essentially a 14-point swing.
It seemed like it was that kind of night for the Broncos throughout the first half.
Two special-teams fumbles led to 10 Chargers points in the first quarter and the interception led to seven more.
By the end of the second quarter, San Diego had built a 24-0 lead thanks to tight end Antonio Gates' second touchdown catch with 24 seconds left in the half.
"Any team could go in and just cave in and say, 'They got us today, we'll get them next time,'" defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. "But the guys, the coaches came in and got the guys rallied. The players believed, it shows the character of the team."
Denver came out of the locker room with a vengeance.
Thanks to three big catches by tight end Joel Dreessen, the Broncos drove into Chargers territory on the opening possession of the third quarter. On the eighth play of the drive, Manning faked a handoff and hit wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 29-yard touchdown to put the Broncos on the board.
It seemed like luck simply wasn't on Denver's side on the ensuing Chargers drive, as a fumble by tight end Randy McMichael was recovered by the Chargers -- for a first down, no less.
But three plays later, Dumervil bull-rushed his way into the backfield and reached his hand out to sack quarterback Philip Rivers and force a fumble. Cornerback Tony Carter picked up the ball and sprinted 65 yards to the end zone for a Denver touchdown to trim San Diego's lead to 24-14.
"It seemed like that was the first one that we had that really was a big swing, 'Hey, OK, maybe some things are going to go our way,'" Manning said. "You have to have those, I think, to complete the comeback."
After a three-and-out, including a 9-yard sack by defensive end Derek Wolfe, the Broncos offense kept the momentum going.
Thanks to a 25-yard pass from Manning to Tamme on third-and-16, Denver strung together a nine-play, 55-yard drive that was capped off by a 7-yard Decker touchdown catch in which he dragged a number of Chargers defenders into the end zone. That brought the score to 24-21, and provided a measure of redemption for Decker after tripping earlier in the game, which he called "one of the more embarrassing moments of my life."
An interception by Carter on the ensuing San Diego drive gave the Broncos the ball at midfield, and Manning quickly capitalized with a 21-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Brandon Stokley, which capped the comeback and gave Denver its first lead of the game midway through the fourth quarter.
"The sideline was as energetic as I've been around in a while," Manning said. "Guys were excited, offense scoring and the defense is right there the first ones to greet us off the field, 'Hey, we're going to get the ball right back for you.' They get a turnover, we're right there saying, 'Hey, we're going to help you and go score with this.' That's good team football right there and that was good to see."
The defense held up its end of the bargain, picking off Rivers on the next two drives -- both interceptions by cornerback Chris Harris, the second of which he returned 46 yards for a touchdown to essentially seal the win.
With the Chargers attempting to get back in the game with less than a minute remaining, Dumervil charged into the backfield again, sacking Rivers a second time and forcing a fumble that was recovered by safety Mike Adams. That allowed Manning to take a knee on consecutive plays to run out the clock for the victory.
"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."
The 35-point second half marked the most points scored after halftime in team history, and allowed the Broncos to enter the bye week on a high note.
"I've been a part of some big wins, but this is right up there," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "This is a good statement for us. What better place to do it than here in San Diego?"