Merriman and Castillo changing games

Shawne Merriman batting one fourth down pass and Luis Castillo sacking Jay Cutler on another fourth down – that is the San Diego Chargers defense.

Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman notched a sack and a forced fumble in the first quarter that Shaun Phillips tried to pick up instead of falling on. Instead of San Diego ball deep in Denver territory, the Broncos recovered it.

Merriman batted down a fourth-and-2 pass from Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter and stripped Cutler in the fourth quarter, his second forced fumble of the game along with a recovery of the ball. The linebacker has forced four fumbles in the last two games and has six in his career. The recovery was his first in the NFL and led to LaDainian Tomlinson's record breaking touchdown.

"I wasn't thinking about the sack," said Merriman. "I was just waiting for him to run the ball. I was thinking about him breaking that record."

With 12.5 sacks on the season, Merriman leads the NFL in that category, despite missing four games to suspension. Merriman and Phillips have each racked up more than 10 sacks in a season (Leslie O'Neal 12.5 and Chris Mims 11.0).

Luis Castillo burst through for a key fourth quarter sack on a fourth-and-three play. It was his sixth sack of the year, extending his career-high.

"To be able to go out there and be an impressive defense you need to be able to make the big play when your team needs it," Castillo said. "We were able to do that today and change the game."

"They were controlling the tempo of the game," said Denver coach Mike Shanahan. "They were moving the ball and we were behind. We wanted to go for the win and obviously it didn't turn out very well."

Stephen Cooper, starting in place of Randall Godfrey, collected a third quarter sack. It was his second sack of the season, setting a new career-high. Cooper previous high had been the 1.5 sacks he collected last year.

"It felt great," said Cooper. "That's what we try to do every game, which is to get at the quarterback."

Cooper also led the team in tackles with nine and added two passes defensed.

Tatum Bell crossed the 100-yard threshold with his 13th carry of the game in the fourth quarter. He became the first opponent to rush for 100-yards against the San Diego defense in the last 21 home games. Their 20-game streak without allowing a 100-yard rusher had been the second-longest active streak in the NFL (Kansas City, 21 games).

Since Denver held a 24-7 advantage in Denver up until the Broncos scored a third quarter touchdown, San Diego had outscored their AFC West rivals 56-6. Denver then scored 17 unanswered points before San Diego roared back with 20 straight.

"Whenever our offense plays the way it did we feel like we have to win because no team should score more than 17 points off us," safety Marlon McCree said. "Our offense gave us a lot of momentum."

Reserve cornerback Steve Gregory led the team with three special teams tackles.

Injury update:

Scott Mruczkowski was taken to the locker room in the second quarter with a knee injury.

Nick Hardwick suffered a left knee injury in the third quarter. He took a helmet to the knee and his leg buckled under the impact. On the first snap after Cory Withrow took over at center, Withrow stepped on Rivers' foot. Hardwick returned to the game on the following series.

Shaun Phillips aggravated his calf injury and was limping after the game.


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