The play of Peyton Maning and Von Miller couldn't be more different stylistically. The former is a perfectionist who sometimes marks TDs with the hint of a smile, but usually not, while the latter is an exuberant goofball who said one of his sack celebrations yesterday was inspired by Sonic the Hegdgehog. But the combination of the two is proving to be awesome, as the much-despised Philip Rivers has witnessed personally -- most recently in a 30-23 Broncos win that wasn't as close as the score implies.
When the Broncos met the Chargers last month on Monday Night Football, San Diego built a 24-0 first half lead and then proceeded to blow it in hilarious fashion, resulting in a 35-24 Denver victory and renewed calls for the head of SD coach Norv Turner, who may finally, finally, finally have worn out his welcome in SoCal. Combine this humiliation with the understanding that a loss would essentially crush any dreams of winning the AFC West with six games to go and the Chargers had plenty of incentive for revenge -- and when Eric Weddle returned a tipped Manning pass for six less than halfway through the first quarter, those of us who remember San Diego's pre-Manning dominance of the Broncos at home had a moment of concern.
But not much more than that.
True, Manning and the offense took a while to get untracked thanks to some dubious play calls (it'd be nice to think the Broncos could pick up a third and one with a Lance Ball plunge up the middle, but that strategy hasn't worked all season) and errant timing (those early deep shots to Demaryius Thomas and Jacob Tamme were oh so close to working). But the defense gave their opposite numbers lotsa time to work out the kinks, stuffing the Chargers' run game and pressuring Rivers at nearly every opportunity, especially in the first half. And while Miller wasn't the only one bringing the heat, he certainly was the most persistent and relentless, displaying fierce quickness that made most of the lineman trying to block him seem as if they were ankle deep in quicksand -- all of which added up to so many three and outs that San Diego punter Mike Scifres was in danger of passing out from sheer exhaustion even before he was plowed under in a Nate Irving rejection that set up a 31 yard Manning-to-Brandon Stokley strike.
In all, Miller collected three sacks and forced two fumbles -- and he would have recovered the second of them, and perhaps rambled for a touchdown, if Wesley Woodyard hadn't figuratively cock-blocked him and grabbed it himself. (Fortunately, the two of them are pals, and probably shared a good laugh about it afterward). And while San Diego did manage to move the ball in the second half on a couple of drives, these minor successes mostly took place during extended garbage time, when Denver was more interested in eating clock than in further humiliating Rivers, who looked sad and pouty enough as it was.
As the latest win proved, the Broncos have become a well-balanced squad, with offense, defense and special teams all equally capable of leading to a W. Granted, some concerns remain, including the health of Willis McGahee, who left early with a knee issue and didn't return, as well as a continuing proclivity for coughing up the ball; when returner Trindon Holliday is in the open field, he's a marvel, but when opponents smack him, it's breath-holding time.
At this point, though, the Broncos are virtually assured of winning the West -- especially considering that their remaining six games include two against the woeful Kansas City Chiefs, a home game against Cleveland and another match-up against the heading-in-the-wrong-direction Raiders. As a bonus, the defense seems to be getting better week by week, reaching the point where the squad has risen into the league's elite. And for this, let us all give thanks.
Look below to see a post-game interview with Manning courtesy of CBS4, an ESPN analysis of the victory and not one but two clips of Von Miller practicing sack dances.
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