Admit it: When the Broncos went into a 24-0 hole versus the Chargers, you thought the squad would mount a second-half redemption effort that would fall short, just as happened with Atlanta, Houston and New England. But a funny thing happened on the way to predictability: The Broncos sapped the Bolts 35-24 in a comeback for the team and the entire Peyton Manning experiment that had the added benefit of scorching SD quarterback Philip Rivers, who couldn't have deserved it more.
Our 2008 post headlined "San Diego QB Philip Rivers: dick" pretty much captures my nuanced thinking about the signal caller in question. Sure, he's extremely talented, but he's also cocky and full of himself in ways that make him totally repellent to pretty much everyone lacking a lifetime membership in Chargers Nation -- and a lot of the citizens there probably feel the same way in their heart of hearts. As such, I'm filled with uncharitable delight every time something happens on the field to change his bully-boy smirk into a look of disbelief over how the football gods have forsaken him.
That happened a lot in the second half last night. But to get to that joy, Broncos' fans had to survive the first two quarters, which were agonizing in the extreme. A muffed punt by new special-teams "solution" Trindon Holliday led to a Chargers field goal. Then, on the kickoff, returner Omar Bolden did pretty much the same thing, resulting in a San Diego touchdown.
Next, Manning hit Eric Decker with a long ball that would have been a sure touchdown had not ED somehow managed to fall down for no apparent reason. True, Decker didn't fumble, Demaryius Thomas-style. But a moment later, Manning targeted Matt Willis on a third and six play that was set up perfectly for conversion, except for the fact that Willis kept going rather than pulling up, giving Quentin Jammer the easiest pick-six of his career. And finally, with the score 17-0 and the defense totally demoralized, Rivers energized a drive that ended with Antonio Gates's second touchdown reception of the evening.
At that point, you would have been forgiven for changing channels to The Voice. But when the Broncos got the ball at the start of the third, Manning moved the offense with an alacrity we've only seen in spurts thus far in 2012 -- and he didn't stop. When he wasn't engineering TDs (including one scored by Decker, whose bull rush into the end zone helped compensate for his stumble), the Broncos' D, which had been looking susceptible to the same inability to get off the field that has haunted Denver all season long, suddenly got busy. Chris Harris, who only started because Tracy Porter was ill, notched a pair of interceptions, including the game-salter, and Tony Carter made his own end-zone appearance after scooping up a Rivers fumble.
The ESPN braintrust reports that the 35-24 final marks the first time in NFL history that a team went from 24 points down to a double-digit win -- not exactly the sort of achievement Rivers will press in his book of cherished memories. But more important to the Broncos was the way the offense came together under Manning in the final two quarters. All too often, Peyton has seemed about two steps ahead of his teammates mentally and physically, leading to the sort of discombobulation that's turned W's into L's. But when it counted last night, the Broncos looked like John Elway's dream attack made flesh.
There's no guarantee this will continue after the upcoming bye week, but signs look strong. The Broncos managed to emerge from a brutal first month and a half with a 3-3 record and first place in the AFC West. Getting there wasn't always pretty -- but the final half last night sure as hell was.
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Look below to see a CBS4 clip of Chris Harris talking about the game and -- just for fun -- an example of Rivers's trash-talking (at Jay Cutler) that makes thinking about last night's victory even more enjoyable.