DENVER --As it has done so many times the last two seasons, the Broncos' defense slammed the door shut on the San Diego Chargers when it mattered most.
T.J. Ward's fourth-and-goal rush forced a quick Philip Rivers throw that Lorenzo Doss deflected in the end zone with 2:31 remaining, allowing the Broncos to escape from Sunday with a 27-19 win that pushed them to 6-2 and allowed them to salvage a split from their season-series with their long-time division rivals.
San Diego had one more shot after the offense went three-and-out, but the Broncos cranked up the pressure, with an errant fourth-and-9 attempt from Rivers to Melvin Gordon sealing the Broncos' sixth win of the season, allowing them to stay in a first-place tie with the Oakland Raiders with their first showdown of the season looming next week in the East Bay.
The Chargers gashed the Broncos for 369 yards from scrimmage, and Gordon ran for 111 hard-earned yards on 23 carries, becoming the first running back to break the century mark against the Broncos in 25 games dating back to last September.
But Denver's defense intercepted Rivers three times -- including twice in a 60-second span early in the third quarter. Two of the interceptions led to scores -- including the first, which was a Bradley Roby pick-six -- allowing the Broncos to build a lead that San Diego threatened, but never overcame.
A quick look at how the three keys played out:
1. BALANCED OFFENSE
In the first half, the Broncos leaned heavily on the pass, calling pass plays on 25 of their 32 snaps. The aerial game worked early; Siemian completed four of his first five passes for 62 yards to guide the Broncos into field-goal range, but his next 11 attempts generated just four completions for 15 yards.
In the second half, the Broncos found better balance. Running back Devontae Booker gained 35 of his 54 rushing yards after halftime, and the Broncos ran 23 times (plus two more game-clinching kneeldowns) against 14 passes.
Still, the running game was not what the Broncos wanted, leading Head Coach Gary Kubiak to describe it as "nonexistent" at his postgame press conference.
"I'm disappointed. I know that we were missing C.J. [Anderson] today, but that's a done deal," he said. "We have to improve. Losing Booker for a few series was a factor in the game."
- GENERATE TURNOVERS AND AVOID YOUR OWN**
The Broncos took care of the first part of this, intercepting three Rivers passes -- two of which led to a pair of Broncos touchdowns, punctuated by Roby's 51-yard pick-six in the second quarter that allowed the Broncos to retake the lead at 10-7 before halftime.
But three Broncos giveaways -- including an interception off Siemian that saw the pass skip off Jordan Norwood's hands and into the grasp of Casey Hayward -- evened the scales. Hayward's interception pulled the Chargers within 24-19 midway through the fourth quarter, setting the stage for a dramatic goal-line stand punctuated by end-zone heroics from Doss, who was pressed into service because of injuries to Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster.
3. BE PREPARED FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT
San Diego brought pass rushers from all directions, moving Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa around to create pressure on Trevor Siemian. But the Broncos eventually adapted, and in the second half used power running for Booker to provide just enough of a threat to set up deep shots downfield -- including 31- and 40-yard passes to Virgil Green and Demaryius Thomas that set up a Brandon McManus field goal.
The Broncos got revenge for a Thursday night loss with a 27-19 victory on Sunday over the Chargers that kept the Broncos in a first-place tie with the Oakland Raiders. (Photos by Eric Bakke unless noted)