With still a couple months to go until kickoff of the NFL season, we continue our weekly previews of matchups we can’t wait to see in 2014.
Broncos vs. Chargers (Week 8, Week 15)
At times, the Denver Broncos seemed unbeatable in 2013.
That is, until they met the San Diego Chargers.
Denver handled San Diego for much of their first meeting, but the momentum swung in favor of the Chargers in the second half. Facing a 28-6 deficit (thanks to a 3 touchdown game from Demaryius Thomas), San Diego made good on a fumble recovery, scoring on a 7-yard pass to Danny Woodhead. Less than 13 minutes later, the Chargers were in the endzone again on a 1-yard Ryan Mathews TD run, and were a touchdown away from tying the game.
It wasn’t significant enough to save San Diego — the Broncos topped the Chargers 28-20 at Qualcomm Stadium — but it gave San Diego reason to believe that Denver wasn’t the juggernaut they had been made out to be.
As the rest of the football world chalked it up as simply a close call in yet another Broncos win, something bigger was looming.
Then came Week 15.
After losing to the Broncos and falling to 4-5 in Week 10, that momentum rolled with the Chargers all the way into Week 15. It didn’t exactly show in the win-loss column — the Chargers went 2-2 in the four games after their first defeat at the hands of the Broncos — but it was apparent once they took Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Chargers defense was better against Manning and the Denver offense, but it was San Diego’s offense that made the difference.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen took advantage of the Thursday Night Football national stage, scoring 2 touchdowns to help the Chargers tie, then take the lead over the Broncos. Mathews’ 23-yard sprint down the left sideline put San Diego ahead 24-10, and this time, it was Denver’s turn to attempt a comeback. Much like San Diego a month earlier, Denver couldn’t get it done, helping San Diego sneak into the playoffs two weeks later as a Wild Card, and setting up a decisive third game in the AFC Divisional round.
San Diego jumped offsides multiple times — thanks to the “Omaha” craze — and the Chargers offense struggled to get anything going for much of the afternoon. San Diego’s first six drives ended in four punts, a missed field goal and clock expiration. The Chargers scored on their final three possessions, but it wasn’t enough.
Meanwhile, Denver was in the midst of a postseason peak. Peyton Manning and the Broncos ran 14 plays to gain 86 yards on their way to a touchdown on their opening drive. It was engineered, systematic domination, and set the tone for the rest of the day.
That’s not to say Rivers had a bad day, because he didn’t. The Chargers quarterback completed 18-of-27 passes for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns. But Denver was reaching the apex of its 2013 performance, and it was too much to handle.
Last season, the Chargers and Broncos battled in two scintillating affairs. In the third game, San Diego was sent home by its bitter divisional rivals and had to watch Denver win a trip to the Super Bowl.
Each team has plenty to prove in 2014. Fresh off a devastating loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl, Denver enters the season looking to avenge defeat, and doesn’t plan to take any prisoners on the way. San Diego, still considered the understudy to Manning and the Broncos, will be driven by the pursuit of a division title. Combine the two, and we’ll have a pair of incredible matchups this fall.
We can’t wait.