Bolts Cap Historic Run with Romp Over Denver

The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos both made history Sunday, but only one has something to brag about. The Bolts became the first team to rebound from a 4-8 record to make the playoffs while the Broncos became the first team to lead a division for 16 weeks before losing it in Week 17. The bottom line: The Chargers are moving on.

For the San Diego Chargers, Sunday's 52-21 thrashing of the Denver Broncos was filled with best-case scenarios.

It started with Philip Rivers winning his duel with Broncos QB Jay Cutler. Rivers hit 15-of-20 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns. In the process, Rivers established a new franchise record with 34 TD passes and topped 4,000 yards (4,009) for the first time in his career.

Cutler finished 33-of-49 for 316 yards, one score and two costly interceptions. FS Paul Oliver snagged the first interception of his career near the end of the first half, and DE Luis Castillo snatched the second pick of his career on a pass batted in the air by OLB Shaun Phillips.

FB Jacob Hester
Jeff Gross/Getty

Of course, it helped that San Diego's running game was clicking on all cylinders. The Chargers racked up a season-best 289 yards rushing, averaging 6.9 yards per carry.

LaDainian Tomlinson ran for three TDs and averaged a season-high 6.9 ypc; Darren Sproles ran for more than 100 yards for the first time this year (115); Jacob Hester scored the first rushing TD of his career; and Vincent Jackson ran a pair of reverses for 30 yards.

The San Diego defense played bend but don't break, as the Chargers held the Broncos scoreless on seven of their 10 drives.

By comparison, the Bolts scored on eight of 10 drives. Throw in the aforementioned takeaways, and it was a winning performance by Ron Rivera's group.

The Chargers are now earning a reputation as kings of the late-season rally. San Diego is already the only team to ever recover from a 0-4 start to make the playoffs, which occurred in 1992. Sixteen seasons later, the 2008 Chargers became the first team to win its division after trailing by three games with only three to play.

The Chargers also became the first team in league history to win 14 consecutive games in the month of December.

Of course, for the Chargers to surge into the history books, the Denver Broncos had to crumble down the stretch.

The Broncos officially went to pieces on Sunday by allowing a season-high 52 points; Denver allowed 448 points on the year, the second-most in team history.

As a result, the Chargers earn a date with likely League MVP Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who ride into Qualcomm Stadium on a nine-game winning streak. In fact, the Colts are one of only two teams in the NFL to boast a longer winning streak than San Diego's four.

It's hardly an easy draw for San Diego, but it could be worse. The Chargers could be making early plans for the 2009 draft, a fate they've now dropped on the laps of the Denver Broncos.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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