SAN DIEGO –** The Broncos' defense started Sunday's game like they ended it: exceptionally.
For the second time this season, the Broncos didn't allow a first down in the first quarter, holding Philip Rivers and the Chargers to 10 yards compared to their offense's 126.
They capped off the win and sealed the Broncos' fate as the AFC West champions by picking off Rivers twice with less than five minutes left in the game.
But making key stops at vital times is nothing new for this revitalized defense, they practice it every day, talk about it during meetings and have consistently executed it in recent weeks.
"That's just us," Malik Jackson said of making big plays. "We've got guys in the secondary, we've got guys up front, we've got guys in the middle that know what they're doing. We do a great job throughout the week talking scenarios out and doing things so when it comes on the field, we've seen it already. It's also a tribute to Coach [Jack] Del Rio and the staff. They just put us in great positions."
See the best moments captured from Sunday's AFC West-sealing victory in sunny San Diego.
Jackson had a career-high two pass deflections on the day, and had a third negated by penalty.
The defense was strong on all fronts, particularly early on as Rivers was unable to complete a pass until the second quarter, perhaps continuing their standout Week 15 performance that they had against the Bills where they stifled that offense, holding them to just a field goal through three quarters.
With two games left in the regular season, the Broncos' defense seems to be peaking at an excellent time as they are now fully comfortable with the new additions.
"I think we're playing at a championship level," Rahim Moore said. "It's a few things that we already fixed. I know me, personally, what I want to work on to help this team win. So I think we're headed in that right direction but really though, our practicing has been crisp. Our camaraderie, us in meetings — we're intent. We're understanding the system even more, we're understanding who we are in our roles on the team, whether you're a first-string guy, second string, special teams — everybody knows their role and they're doing a good job at that."
Moore, along with Aqib Talib, had interceptions on the day. Moore had an interception in the end zone on the Chargers' final drive of the game while Talib got Rivers and Co. off the field on second-and-9 when they were down by nine with 4:53 to go.
The Broncos' offense was able to drive downfield and Connor Barth hit a 44-yard field goal.
Talib was watching Rivers the entire play. He gave all the credit to Del Rio for making the call.
"Philip Rivers didn't know what coverage we were in," Talib said. "I was underneath. My guy ran a dig. I was just undercut it and it really was Jack, it really was Jack. He called a great call."
Del Rio and John Elway brought Talib to the Broncos for games like Sunday's – to make key plays in key situations. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed 17 yards on 3-of-6 throws in his direction with two pass break ups and an interception. He received his highest PFF rating of the season.
Talib said the Broncos' game plan was to stop the run and get turnovers. They certainly accomplished that as the Chargers were only able to muster 56 yards on the ground.
The Broncos were able to put together a complete game despite losing both Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan. Todd Davis played 24 snaps in their absence. With those two linebackers out, the Broncos were forced to close out the game without a player with a headset. Against a team that knows their signals, it was a tough task.
But everything about Sunday's game was tough – the environment, the opponent and the stakes. The defense was, once again, came up big as the offense was held to 22 points.
Terrance Knighton said the defense is playing the best it has all season. Sunday's finish was a vast contrast from Week 15 when they allowed the Bills to get two touchdowns and 188 yards in the fourth quarter.
"It's exactly how we want it," Knighton said of finishing the game strong. "It's exactly where we wanted to be. We wanted to end the game on defense. We wanted the defense to be a factor, and you can ask me any game, any part of the season with the game on the line, we want to be on the field, not our offense."