SAN DIEGO –With the Broncos' 35-24 win at San Diego, players will be able to enjoy their bye week tied atop the AFC West.
While all games against divisional opponents are important, this one held even more importance as it represented a two-game swing against the team that entered the week alone in first place.
"It was a pivotal game," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "It's always nice to win a game going into the bye, on the road, in the division. We feel fortunate to be tied for first place in our division at 3-3. It is going to be a competitive division down the stretch."
While there's still plenty of football to play in the 2012 season, Head Coach John Fox said every game counts against division rivals.
"You're doing everything you can to win your division, so anytime you go against a division opponent, that's key," Fox said. "They were a game ahead of us and we made up a little ground at this point."
After six weeks of play, only two AFC teams have winning records – Houston and Baltimore.
With the abundance of parity across the league, the Broncos know that they need to enjoy wins whenever they can get them.
"It's exciting going into the bye week, having that first place in our division, just got to keep going," wide receiver Eric Decker said.
While the team is happy to enter the bye week in first place, players know there is still work to do.
Players will be off Thursday-Sunday before turning their attention to the New Orleans Saints, who will visit Sports Authority Field at Mile High for another primetime contest.
"That's just one step," defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. "It's still a long season. Guys have to enjoy it, but get ready for a good team coming in our house."
YOUNG CORNERBACKS STEP UP
Cornerbacks Tony Carter and Chris Harris didn't enter the week as starters, but they made a name for themselves in front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football.
Harris started in place of Tracy Porter, who missed the game due to illness, and intercepted passes on consecutive Chargers fourth-quarter drives. He sealed the win with his second, which he returned 46 yards for his first career touchdown.
Carter also scored his first touchdown with a 65-yard fumble return that marked the sixth-longest in franchise history. He also added an interception in the game, another career first.
"Me and Tony, that's how we practice every day," Harris said. "We just tried to come out here and step up for when Tracy was gone, just try to make plays."
Fellow cornerback Champ Bailey had a prime seat for the breakout games from the young players he's mentored.
"I say it all the time – we're only going to be as good as our young guys make us," Bailey said. When we have young players play like that, that's what really makes teams really good. You've got veterans that know what they're doing, but you don't know about the young guys. But when they play the way we know that they can play, and they start believing in themselves, the sky's the limit."
Fox preaches a next-man-up mentality and when Porter wasn't able to go, Carter was ready to fill in. In addition to producing two key turnovers, Carter also tied for the team lead with a pair of special-teams stops.
"Coaches always tell us to be ready, we're one snap away," Carter said. "Just taking advantage of the opportunity."
Combined, the pair of undrafted free agents produced four turnovers and 14 points in the win.
"Pick six, pick crazy," Vickerson said. "They played good. They were reading their keys. That came from a hard week of studying pass coverages all week."
BRONCOS COUNTRY MAKES PRESENCE FELT
As the Broncos began to chip away at the Chargers' lead, the Broncos faithful that filled Qualcomm Stadium became more and more noticeable
"I've been here three years, that was the first time I've seen all that orange on the road," Vickerson said. "I mentioned something like that to Elvis on the sideline – it was crazy. A lot of support. We travel deep."
That support helped fuel the team's furious second-half comeback.
"It was fun, you felt the energy," Dumervil said. "The fans were amazing out there."
After the game, Fox reported that the Broncos emerged "pretty healthy." The only player to leave the game with an injury was right tackle Orlando Franklin, who later returned to the game.