DENVER –The Chargers figured the best way to beat the Broncos was to keep the ball out of the hands of quarterback Demaryius Thomas.
Defenses have had a hard time slowing down Manning and the Broncos offense this season, so the Chargers turned to their offense to help.
San Diego controlled the time of possession battle, keeping its offense on the field for 38:49, while the Broncos were only on offense for 21:11.
"I give San Diego's defense a lot of credit," Manning said. "They played well on defense and we were not as sharp – we just didn't play as well and didn't stay on the field. We didn't have the ball much and when we had it though, we didn't do enough with it. Give San Diego credit, they played better than we did."
Winning the time-of-possession battle was a similar strategy that former Broncos Offensive Coordinator and current Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy deployed in the first meeting between the two teams. San Diego held the ball for 38:03 of that game, limiting Denver's time of possession to 21:57.
"I've dealt with it before. Teams have tried a similar game plan before where they are snapping the ball with two seconds, one second (left on the clock)," Manning said. "(Chargers quarterback) Philip (Rivers) looks like he calls a lot of plays at the line of scrimmage and he's trying to get them into a good play. When they're doing that they are taking a lot of time off the clock. But hey, it's our job to score points when we have the ball, no matter if we have it for 40 minutes or 20 minutes. We had it for 20 tonight; we didn't do a good enough job on offense and that's something that we have to correct."
Manning finished the game 27-of-41 for 289 and a pair of touchdowns to increase his season total to 47 touchdown passes, good for fourth place on the NFL's all-time single-season record list.
On the opening drive, the team drove 67 yards in 7 plays and took a 7-0 lead a 15-yard scoring strike from Manning to wide receiver Andre Caldwell.
Manning and Caldwell connected again in the fourth quarter, this time from 5 yards. Caldwell finished the game as the game's leading receiver with six catches for 59 yards.
"'Bubba' Caldwell played excellent," Manning said. "He had a great route on his first touchdown, then a good job getting in the end zone. Fourth down, tight coverage (he was targeted) – so I think it tells you the confidence I have in him. (Offensive Coordinator) Adam (Gase0 called his number a couple of times and I went right to him."
Despite having just three days to prepare for this week's Thursday night matchup, Manning said the short rest wasn't a factor in the offense's lowest output of the season.
"I thought we had pretty good practices on a short week," Manning said. "I thought we prepared to play a division game on the short week and thought we were prepared to play. We certainly just didn't play as well as we would have liked."
Thursday's game marked the last of the year at home as the team finishes with back-to-back road contests.
While the Broncos have already clinched the franchise's 20th all-time postseason berth, there is still plenty to play for when it comes to seeding.
"We are certainly going to try to address it and learn from it and improve from this game," Manning said. "There were some mistakes made out there in all three phases that were critical and we weren't able to overcome. We have to correct those and address those and be better for it. That's the plan starting tomorrow."