SAN DIEGO -- Sunday's win in San Diego was a milestone victory.
It was Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen's 300th, a feat he accomplished in just 30 years. It was Jack Del Rio's first in his new Interim Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator role. And it put the Broncos just one game back of the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs in advance of next week's Sunday Night Football showdown.
The 28-20 Broncos' win against the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium moved the club to 8-1.
"Not everything exactly how you like it, but I thought it was a good, gutty effort on the road for a good divisional win," Del Rio said.
Despite holding the ball for just 57 seconds in the first quarter and only 7:31 in the entire first half, Denver was able to build a lead and hold off a late San Diego charge.
"You knew it wasn't going to be many possessions and we had to be efficient when we had the ball," quarterback Peyton Manning said.
The quick-strike offense got started early. After the defense forced a punt on the Chargers' first drive, the Broncos offense needed just three plays to find the end zone thanks to Julius Thomas.
The tight end took a short pass from Manning and sprinted down the sideline 74 yards for a touchdown, giving Denver a 7-0 lead.
Two Chargers' field goals sandwiched a four-play Broncos drive that ended with a punt, and San Diego was back within a point at 7-6.
But the Broncos responded with a seven-play drive in which the offense didn't face a single third down. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas reached for the pylon at the end of an 11-yard catch-and-run for the first of his three touchdowns on the day.
"I mean, I asked him, 'I can't get one?'" wide receiver Eric Decker joked of the three scoring passes that headed Thomas' way. "No, it was fun. He's obviously a beast, so I'm happy he caught everything and made some big plays."
With just 1:38 remaining in the half, the Broncos drove 73 yards to extend their lead to 21-6 thanks to a 7-yard Demaryius Thomas touchdown.
The hat trick came on the opening drive of the second half, when Demaryius Thomas took a screen pass 34 yards for a score, pushing Denver's lead to 22 points.
"Critical series there at the end of the half," Manning said. "Then we got the ball – and that's a big reason why we defer, (Head) Coach (John) Fox has always deferred – and so we hit that first possession of the second half. That's a 14-point swing and that's probably the difference in the ballgame."
But Denver wouldn't score again. And a fumble by Manning on a strip-sack by linebacker Tourek Williams turned the momentum in San Diego's favor.
Two unanswered touchdowns by the Chargers moved San Diego to within one possession with a little less than 11 minutes remaining in the game.
But Denver took nearly four minutes off the clock with its ensuing drive, and even though the Broncos were forced to punt back to the Chargers, San Diego's offense was unable to cash in on a drive that lasted seven plays but gained only 24 yards.
"Things are going to happen in a football game," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "Sometimes you give up big runs. Sometimes you give up a big pass. But when it gets to that red area, you've got to keep them out. That's what we did today."
San Diego punted back to Denver with 3:26 left in the game, and three first downs allowed the Broncos offense to run the clock out to seal the victory.
"At the end of the game, to have the ball offensively and not give it back – close out the game with a great, four-minute drive -- that's imperative for us to do those things," Del Rio said. "I'm really happy about that."
Now the team's focus can turn to the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs.
"They've got all the weapons," linebacker Von Miller said. "They've got everything. It's going to have to be a solid, four-quarter game. That's what we're expecting and that's what we're going to give them. I'm going to make sure of it."