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Mile High Morning: Ranking the Broncos' best battles vs. Philip Rivers


The Lead

On Wednesday, former Chargers and Colts quarterback Philip Rivers called it a career, announcing his retirement from the NFL after 17 seasons. During his years with the Chargers, Rivers became one of Broncos fans' most-hated (and in some ways most-beloved) rivals, famous for his gunslinger mentality and zero-profanity trash-talking.

In that time, he led the Chargers in plenty of memorable games against Denver — both wins and losses. In honor of that, I've pulled together a list of my five favorite battles with Rivers:

5. Broncos 23, Chargers 22 (Week 11, 2018 season)

In perhaps Rivers' finest season of the second half of his career, Denver struggled to slow him early. Even when they forced him into a second-quarter interception, the Broncos failed to turn the takeaway into points. Midway through the third quarter, Rivers had tossed two touchdowns and led Los Angeles to a 19-7 lead. But in forcing a second interception, Denver found its spark, as Von Miller returned the pick 42 yards to set up a brief touchdown drive. After another touchdown to begin the fourth quarter, the Broncos held a one-point lead. In short succession, Rivers threw for 60 yards to lead the Chargers down the field for a go-ahead field goal. But on Denver's final possession, Case Keenum led the Broncos 76 yards for a game-winning field goal as time expired.

4. Broncos 24, Chargers 21 (Week 1, 2017 season)

In building a 24-7 lead — highlighted by Trevor Siemian breaking Joey Bosa's ankles for a touchdown — the Broncos entered the fourth quarter with victory seemingly in hand. But Rivers would put that in doubt with two touchdown passes separated by little over a minute to draw the Chargers within three points. The Broncos couldn't put points on the board in their next two possessions, leaving the door open for Rivers and Co. He would push the Chargers to Denver's 26-yard line with five seconds left, but the Broncos would close the door in thrilling fashion as Shelby Harris blocked the 44-yard attempt by Younghoe Koo.

3. Broncos 39, Chargers 38 (Week 2, 2008 season)

In the mid-2000s, San Diego was in command of the rivalry with the Broncos. Beginning in 2006, the Chargers built a four-game winning streak (with a scoring differential of 147-55) over the Denver for the first time since the late-1960s. The Broncos snapped that streak in 2008 in part because of heroic performances by Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall and an officiating error, and in spite of a great game by Rivers. After the Broncos built a 21-3 second-quarter lead, Rivers helped rally the Chargers. Midway through the fourth quarter, Cutler had the Broncos four yards from the end zone before throwing an interception. Three plays later, Rivers found Darren Sproles for a 66-yard touchdown to take a 38-31 lead. However, on Denver's ensuing drive, Cutler marched the Broncos back down the field to the 1-yard line. Then disaster nearly struck when Cutler clearly appeared to fumble as he brought the ball up to throw. But referee Ed Hochuli whistled the play dead and called it an incomplete pass, and instant-replay rules could not reverse the call to give San Diego possession. Instead, Cutler found Eddie Royal for a touchdown and then threw another dart to him for a two-point conversion to win the game.

2. Broncos 24, Chargers 17 (2013 Divisional Round)

In Denver's only playoff game against the Chargers, Peyton Manning and the Broncos looked to continue their run of offensive success that torched NFL record books. Through three quarters, they held a commanding 17-0 lead, but Rivers put the pressure on with three consecutive scoring drives, including two touchdown passes to Keenan Allen. Trailing 24-17 with about four minutes remaining, the Chargers needed a defensive stop for a chance to win or force overtime. Early in the drive, it appeared Rivers would soon get his chance. The Broncos faced third-and-17 after a false start, a run for a loss of 2 yards and an incomplete pass. Anything less than a first down would have returned the ball to San Diego, and an incomplete pass may have done that and given the Chargers great field position. Instead, Manning eluded pressure and found Julius Thomas wide open down the right sideline for the first down. After two more first downs, the Broncos were able to run out the clock and move in their run to Super Bowl XLVIII.

1. Broncos 35, Chargers 24 (Week 6, 2012 season)

Aided by two takeaways, including one pick-six, Rivers and the Chargers were able to build a 24-0 first-half lead. But in one of the most exciting comebacks in franchise history, the Broncos stormed back with five unanswered touchdowns. As Manning threw for three touchdowns, Denver's defense rose to the challenge and forced four interceptions, four sacks and three fumbles.

Below the Fold

As 9NEWS’ Mike Klis recalls in a story on Rivers’ retirement, the Broncos' rivalry with him reached fever pitch in 2007 after Cutler and Rivers exchanged certain pleasantries late in the game. "From the moment Rivers' demonstrative anger was displayed for a national audience on the night before Christmas — he yelled at Cutler while pointing to the scoreboard, which showed the Chargers' comfortably in command — he became the No. 1 villain to Broncos Country," Klis writes. "It's a role the combative Rivers seemed to relish."

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