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Five Key Moments: How the Broncos clinched the AFC's top seed


  1. Demaryius' 72-yard dash opens the game**

Much like the last time the Broncos and Chargers faced off, Denver opened with a scoring drive capped by a touchdown to Demaryius Thomas. This time, however, Thomas took a short pass, eluded a defender and then cut back through a few more, eluding San Diego's secondary for a 72-yard score on the Broncos' second play.

Opening with a score allowed the Broncos to put the Chargers on their heels out of the gates. San Diego mustered a field goal on their next drive, but couldn't take advantage of four first-half takeaways, converting them into just one field goal.

2. Manning's return

While Peyton Manning's final stat line doesn't have any eye-popping numbers, his return to the field he left seven weeks earlier because of a torn plantar fascia sparked the embers in the crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. After Thomas' touchdown, five of the Broncos' eight possessions ended in a turnover, and the other three ended in two punts and running the clock out to end the first half. While the Broncos still held the lead, the momentum seemed to be shifting to San Diego's favor.

But when Manning walked on to the field, that feeling washed away and the Broncos began an 80-yard drive. Manning threw for 20 yards on the drive while running backs Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined for 55, but the drive signified a renewal for the offense.

3. Latimer's near forced fumble leads to Keo's interception

With the Chargers forcing five takeaways, it seems like the Broncos defense was overdue for one of their own. It very nearly came on a special teams play much like one the Broncos had success on against the Patriots on Nov. 29. Wide receiver Cody Latimer, filling in for an injured Omar Bolden at right gunner, beat his man to hit punt returner Javontee Herndon right as he attempted to catch the ball. Herndon muffed the catch, but in the ensuing scrum, the Chargers recovered. But the Broncos could smell a turnover coming.

It came three plays later as a four-man rush pressured QB Philip Rivers into throwing a difficult pass over the middle to rookie receiver Tyrell Williams. The ball ricocheted off his hands right into the waiting grasp of safety Shiloh Keo, who returned the interception 22 yards.

4. Hillman gives the Broncos separation

On the first play following the interception, the Broncos got their game-winning score as Hillman slipped through a hole opened by center Matt Paradis and guard Louis Vasquez. He dodged Manti Te'o at the second level and dashed to the end zone.

With 4:43 left in regulation, the pressure would be on the Chargers to mount a game-tying drive facing arguably the toughest defense in the NFL.

5. Defense hounds Rivers into disjointed ending

The Chargers wouldn't go down without a fight, and after a few defensive penalties helped move San Diego past midfield, the Broncos dug in for a final stand.

The Broncos took the lead and the win late in the second half.

It started with a miscue that could have gone horribly awry for Rivers, as the snap out of the shotgun soared higher than he expected. But Rivers tipped the ball and it miraculously fell into the hands of RB Danny Woodhead, who was then tackled for a loss of three yards. It was a bad negative play, to be sure, but it didn't give the Broncos a game-sealing turnover.

But then a play later, inside linebacker Danny Trevathan stopped a short pass to Woodhead for a loss of two yards. In four-down territory, Rivers took out a chunk of the 15 yards his offense needed, with a nine-yard pass to WR Dontrelle Inman.

On fourth down, the Broncos defense did what it so often does, and effectively ended the game. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. may not have come down with the interception that was almost in his hands, but the pass he deflected still gave the Broncos the ball. Three Anderson rushes and a first down later, the game was over and the Broncos had won their fifth consecutive AFC West title.

With the Broncos' win over San Diego, enjoy these promotions on Monday, Jan. 4:

  • Papa John's is offering the "If the Broncos win, you win!" promotion, which gives fans in Colorado 50 percent off all orders the day after a Broncos win (home or away).
  • McDonald's is offering fans in Colorado one-dollar Big Mac sandwiches or one-dollar sausage egg McMuffins on Monday and 30 percent off any jersey in the Broncos team store.
  • With three touchdowns scored by Denver, Arby's is offering one-dollar roast beef sandwiches.

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