The intimidation factor of the once-mighty Denver Broncos was quickly put to rest on Sunday, ironically on the very same field it first developed that reputation, some four short years ago.
Chargers return ace Ronney Jenkins drove the first nail in the coffin with an 88-yard touchdown run on the opening kickoff. Safety Rodney Harrison finished the story late in the fourth quarter, slamming quarterback Brian Griese to the turf for one of the Chargers four sacks.
"The Broncos ain't nothing to be scared of," Chargers defensive end Marcellus Wiley told reporters. "You think the Denver Broncos have a mystique coming with them? No, sir. Their Super Bowl past means nothing. History doesn't play on Sunday."
Evidently neither do the Broncos.
During the past two Sunday's Denver has been outscored 61-31, against teams that it used to dominate, specifically Seattle and San Diego.
Griese has gone from the franchise savior to the franchise scapegoat, doubling his interception total from last year in only the first six games. His quarterback rating has fallen faster than a dot com stock, dropping from a season-best 144.3 in Week 1 to 64.3 against San Diego.
On the flip side, the Chargers have become the AFC's Cinderella team, overcoming last seasons' 1-15 record with the likes of 39-yeard old quarterback Doug Flutie and potential rookie of the year LaDanian Tomlinson.
Sunday the Chargers played like the Broncos of old. Instead of being intimidated, they became the intimidators, flexing their muscle before their second largest crowd in franchise history.
Almost remarkable, the Chargers defense held the Broncos to only three-second half points, all while All-Star linebacker Junior Seau watched from the sidelines nursing a pulled groin muscle.
"The whole team pulled together this week," said San Diego head coach Mike Riley. "There were a lot of changes. That's hard on a defensive unit. That's hard on veterans that want to do well. Everybody just kind of quietly pulled together and just kind of worked hard."
Hard enough to impress third-string defensive coordinator Mark Banker, who took over midweek following the resignation of Jim Vechiarella, who was in turn acting in behalf of Joe Pascale, sidelined with severe back problems.
Playing out the scenario, you realize that Denver was beaten, and quite soundly I might add, by someone who had never risen above assistant in his entire NFL career. Someone who had only five days to prepare a game plan, yet systematically shut down Mike Shanahan, Brian Griese and Rod Smith.
Someone who saw the Broncos for what they currently are.
A very mediocre football team.
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