The Broncos haven't won a game since and the Chargers are riding a four-game winning streak to knot these two talented teams at 6-3 and atop the AFC West.
"I don't think 'tank' is the word," Philip Rivers said, when asked if this Broncos team is tanking like last year's, which squandered away the division lead to San Diego in the last four weeks.
"Teams go through ups and downs; we went through a downer earlier in the year and now we're winning. And it seems Denver flipped the role.
"But at this point in the season we're getting into the thick of it and the team playing the best in November and December gets to play in January. That is what we both know and that is why both teams need this win."
Few people outside the Chargers' locker room thought the Chargers could make up that much ground this fast. But under Norv Turner this has become a tradition, with the Chargers starting slowly then finding a way to play their best football as the calendar keeps flipping.
What changed the Chargers was their focus. Once they were looking at such a large deficit and up at the Broncos, they decided to start checking mirrors instead of other teams.
"After that (loss to Denver) our thoughts were we had to take care of own situation," Turner said. "In that game we did a lot of things better than in previous games and we were close to getting on a roll. But we had to just go out and play and not get caught up in the negative things of not winning the game and we did that."
QB Philip Rivers
"They are a very good football team; we saw that in the first meeting," Turner said. "They play awfully well at home and we will have to play our best."
If the Chargers can get past this one in a winning fashion, it'll be the best team they'll see in some time. After wrestling with the Giants and Eagles leading up to Sunday, they get a somewhat soft stretch with the visiting Chiefs and a game at Cleveland up next.
A four-game winning streak could easily transform into a seven-game run beginning with a win Sunday, which is no slam dunk.
But there is no argument the Chargers feel much better seeing the Broncos this time around with a swagger that was absent during a 2-3 start.
"I think with us it's just the confidence level and how we are playing right now as a whole," Shawne Merriman said. "It's not just on offense, but our defense and our special teams. I think everything as a whole has made a complete turnaround from four weeks ago."
SERIES HISTORY: 100th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series 54-44-1. The Broncos used to dominate the Chargers at home, winning 10 of 11 games in Denver during one stretch. But since Philip Rivers became the Chargers' starting quarterback in 2006, the visiting Chargers have won two of three games. And the lone loss came last season in the controversial Ed Hochuli game in which the referee called an incomplete pass instead of a fumble with the Broncos driving for the game-winning score.
--If it seems the AFC West winner is usually the Broncos or Chargers, that has been the case of late. The two teams have won four of the last five division crowns.
QB Philip Rivers said he always get a kick out of going to the Mile High City.
"I do enjoy going there and playing," he said. "It's a great atmosphere; it's a great place to play. Obviously the games are always very meaningful. Denver and us have been battling for the division just about every year. It's always fun to go back there and play and we want to play at a high level."
LB Shawne Merriman
"I think they are a different team than what they were let's say four weeks ago," he said. "Four weeks ago they were undefeated and they just looked like one of the unbeatable teams in the league. But every team can get beat and they were just playing extremely well at that time."
--Chargers coach Norv Turner is familiar with the defensive coordinator he will match wits with Sunday. Mike Nolan of Denver was the head coach of the Niners when Turner was the offensive coordinator in 2006.
--Denver defensive line coach Wayne Nunnely spent 12 seasons in that role with the Chargers before this season.
--Turner takes a lot of heat but know this: If the Chargers beat the Broncos, he will be 26-16 in the regular season and own the highest winning percentage of any San Diego coach at .619.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson, along with former QB Dan Fouts, got the most votes for the franchise's 50th anniversary team.
"It's a great honor, especially when you think about all of the players that have come through here throughout the 50-year history," Tomlinson said. "To be considered to be one of the greatest in the organizations history is a great honor and something you take pride in."
More than 400,000 votes were cast in the on-line balloting.
--It's not a big surprise that when the Chargers collect sacks and take care of the ball, they usually win. In four games this season in which they have more sacks and more forced turnovers combined, the Chargers are 4-0 and have outscored their opponents by 54 points.
--When Tomlinson is running like he did Sunday -- two touchdowns and 96 yards -- it leaks to other areas of the offense.
"When he's playing that way, that's when we're at our best," TE Antonio Gates said. "It's clear to us, it's clear to everyone. When we're able to establish the running game, that's when we're at our best."
--Rivers is coming off a game in which he had a career-best 80 percent completion percentage and a season-high 131.8 rating.
--Tila Tequila has filed a civil lawsuit against Merriman regarding their incident in his home. Merriman was cleared of, among other charges, assault and false imprisonment. "I really have nothing to say," he said. "It's a sad and unfortunate situation that by being a pro figure sometimes you have to deal with things and I am going to let it take its course."
BY THE NUMBERS: 1,000 -- Sunday's game will mark the Chargers' 1,000th since their inception. They are 498-486-15.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Their last win was against us and our last loss was against them." -- QB Philip Rivers on the opposite directions the Chargers and Broncos have gone since Denver defeated the Chargers on Oct. 19.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers' patience for Jyles Tucker's ankle injury was running out, and a look at the calendar forced them to place the outside linebacker on injured reserve, losing him for the season.
To take his roster space, the Chargers went to the other side of the ball in promoting Corey Clark from the practice squad. Clark is a good insurance policy as right tackle Jeromey Clary is nursing a sore ankle that forced him from Sunday's game.
All indications are Clary could play Sunday, but he also could have a setback when he returns to practice this week.
Clark is a former seventh-round pick in his second season with the Chargers.
--LB James Holt has only been with the team since Nov. 3 but he is making an impact on special teams. So much, that he was awarded a game ball for his work on Sunday.
--WR Buster Davis is no closer to seeing the field than he has been all year. The former first-round pick has been inactive for every game.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson trails Marcus Allen by 98 yards for 10th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
--RB Darren Sproles can hurt teams many different ways as a returner, running back and receiver. His 1,602 combined yards leads the league.
--ILB Kevin Burnett continues to move better after missing three games with an ankle injury. He returned last week and led the team with 10 tackles.
GAME PLAN: This game is going to be about passing attack -- the Chargers going all-out after the Broncos' quarterback and Philip Rivers attacking a secondary with smaller receivers being matched against his lanky wide outs.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers outside pass rush vs. Broncos QB Kyle Orton or Chris Simms.
The Chargers were content last week to let Philly's Donovan McNabb sit back and pick apart the secondary to the tune of 450 passing yards. The Chargers thought by the time the outside guys got there, the mobile McNabb would step away from harm's way. That isn't the case this week as that outside pass rush could feast on a gimpy Orton (ankle) or Simms and his happy feet. Both Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips didn't practice Wednesday with leg issues. But both will be going Sunday and it figures they will tee off on the Denver quarterback of the day. Both were held without sacks last week after dominating the previous two weeks. Look for them to cut it loose, which might force Orton/Simms into hot routes and not the down field stuff where Brandon Marshall can shine.
Chargers WRs Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd vs. Broncos secondary.
Jackson and Floyd are making their marks with their downfield, acrobatic catches over smaller defensive backs. This week they could exploit a Denver secondary which features cornerbacks Andre Goodman (5-foot-10) and Champ Bailey (6-0) and safeties Brian Dawkins (6-0) and Renaldo Hill (5-10). Throw in TE Antonio Gates (6-4) and the Chargers' receivers could basically be posing up on the smaller defensive backs, giving Rivers an inviting target. The Broncos do rank No. 5 against the pass, but could have their hands full tracking these giants.
Chargers C Scott Mruczkowski and RT Jeromey Clary vs. Broncos OLB Elvis Dumervil.
Mruczkowski, a backup, has at least one more start in him as Pro Bowler Nick Hardwick continues to mend. Clary is probably going to be ready after twisting his ankle Sunday, but he won't be at 100 percent. The Chargers have to figure out a way to slow Dumervil, who leads the league with 11.5 sacks. In the previous matchup in San Diego, Dumervil collected two sacks and has three against the Chargers in his career.
--OLB Shawne Merriman (foot) didn't work but will play Sunday.
--OLB Shaun Phillips (ankle) didn't work but could practice Thursday; he will go Sunday.
--C Nick Hardwick (ankle) didn't work and it's unlikely he will play Sunday.
--RT Jeromey Clary (ankle) didn't work but he appears he goes Sunday.
--TE Antonio Gates (foot) didn't practice but will play Sunday; this has been a weekly routine.
--DL Travis Johnson (groin) didn't practice but will be part of the rotation Sunday.
--DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo (ankle) didn't practice but will fine for his role on Sunday.