Denver blew a 24-7 lead and lost 35-27 to San Diego. The Chargers, at 8-2, take over first place in the AFC West. The Broncos fell to 7-3.
"San Diego stepped up and played and coached a better game than we did," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "We had our opportunities to put them away and we didn't."
Denver has three days of preparation before playing Kansas City on Thanksgiving. The Broncos have had a lot of trouble at Arrowhead Stadium in their history and now need to win or risk falling too far behind in the division race.
Shanahan enjoys the Thanksgiving game. The preparation is tough -- coaches put in about a day and a half of preparation before the San Diego game -- but it allows for a few days off during the season, which is a rarity. To Shanahan, the extra days off are almost like an extra bye week.
But it won't be easy to focus this week after such a devastating loss.
"It's a tough tome to take, but it's over with," Shanahan said.
The Broncos started the game terribly, with their offense bogged down in the first quarter. Denver had 16 yards in the first quarter. Jake Plummer didn't complete his first pass until early in the second quarter, after five incompletions. That was a sign of things to come for Plummer.
San Diego took a 7-0 lead but Mike Bell scored two touchdowns in the first half. Jason Elam kicked a field goal on Denver's first second-half drive and the Broncos got a huge play when cornerback Darrent Williams returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown.
"I don't know anybody who thinks, if they're up 24-7, that they're going to lose the game," Williams said. "We felt real confident, but at the same time you got to put guys away."
Things fell apart from there. The offense couldn't sustain many drives. Plummer struggled, completing 13 of 28 passes for 183 yards. He had a big interception in the fourth quarter. The Broncos decided to go for it on fourth and four with 3:10 remaining and the ball at their own 38-yard line. Plummer threw an interception to Drayton Florence.
"I felt like we needed to do something," Shanahan said. "We were behind. I wanted to go for the win. Obviously it didn't turn out very well."
The Broncos still had a chance to tie the game and moved to San Diego's 32-yard line in the final seconds. But Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips hit Plummer from behind and forced a fumble. Denver recovered but couldn't snap the ball before time ran out.
Denver had many problems, including inconsistency on offense and a defense that couldn't stop LaDainian Tomlinson. The special teams were particularly bad, often giving up field position because of long kickoff returns by Michael Turner.
"Everything you always hear about since little league that you can't do to lose a game, we seemed to do it," Broncos safety Nick Ferguson said.
--RB Tatum Bell was inactive against San Diego. He has two injured big toes, and has been slowed for a few weeks. With some more rest, Bell might be available Thursday at Kansas City.
--RB Mike Bell started in place of Tatum Bell, who was out with two injured toes. Mike Bell was demoted a week earlier when he was inactive against Oakland. He had 90 yards on 20 carries.
--TE Tony Scheffler was inactive against San Diego. Scheffler had a good preseason, struggled for a few games, then had a good game against Indianapolis. He has hardly played since then, and has been inactive two straight weeks.
--WR Brandon Marshall, a rookie, saw his role increase against San Diego. He was Denver's third receiver most of the game. He had a 33-yard catch but had two other passes hit his hands that were incomplete.
--RB Damien Nash broke a 26-yard run on Denver's first scoring drive against San Diego. Nash, who was signed off the practice squad last week, earned a spot on the active roster because he has been practicing well.
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