SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- The Denver Broncos clinched their fourth straight AFC West title under John Fox on Sunday, defeating the San Diego Chargers 22-10. The Broncos (11-3) are plugged into a first-round bye spot moving forward, while the Chargers (8-6) will have crucial matchups on the road against the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs for a playoff spot.
With two quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, a low-scoring matchup such as this one was surprising. The combined 32 points was the lowest total in a Denver-San Diego game since November of 2011, when the Tim Tebow-led Broncos defeated the Chargers 19-13. The defenses ruled this matchup, with a 36% total 3rd down efficiency and 2.8 yards per carry allowed.
However, the Denver defense came out on top, with clutch fourth-quarter interceptions from cornerback, Aqib Talib, and safety, Rahim Moore (in the end zone). The Broncos’ defense didn’t surrender a first down in the opening frame for just the second time this season and limited Rivers to 10 points. Kickers Connor Barth and Nick Novak effectively ruled the scoresheet, kicking a combined 6 field goals…five by Barth.
Injuries were perhaps the biggest narrative of the game for Denver. Left tackle Ryan Clady left the game in the first quarter, and was replaced by a subpar Chris Clark. Linebacker, and the team's season-leader in tackles, Brandon Marshall, sustained a foot injury and was seen afterwards wearing a boot on his right foot. Linebacker, Danny Trevathan, and Talib also left the game at various stages.
However, Broncos fans’ hearts stopped when Manning left the field for the locker room in the second quarter, after what appeared to be a C.J. Anderson touchdown inside of two minutes. The score was overturned and Brock Osweiler took over. Manning was suffering from flu-like symptoms as it was and the thigh injury he suffered in-game curtailed him in the second half. However, he notched a passer rating of 125.6, completing 70% of his passes. Anderson finished with 85 yards on 29 carries.
It was a bittersweet victory, with Trevathan hobbled on his first game off injured reserve. And with Marshall down, the Broncos' tenuous LB depth grew more strained. This marks three starting LBs for the Broncos who have lost time this season due to injury (Nate Irving being the other). Waiver wire acquisition LB Todd Davis saw the majority of snaps in relief, notching four tackles and one solo. This will be a major component of the team moving forward. Likely starters at linebacker opposite Von Miller will be Steven Johnson and Danny Trevathan (assuming he's healthy). However, Davis' impacts must not be minimized moving forward.
The win puts the Broncos at 12 consecutive in-division road wins, tied with the '87-'90 Bill Walsh/George Seifert 49ers. With the victory, Coach Fox also clinched his fourth straight division title. This has only previously been accomplished by Coach Chuck Knox, who took the Los Angeles Rams to division titles in his first five years as a coach, from 1973-77.
The Broncos face the 9-4-1 Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium next Monday night.