The over/under was 55.5. This was supposed to be a nonstop shootout with two marquee quarterbacks. But Peyton Manning's touchdown factory didn't pile up points on the Chargers, instead holding just a one-possession lead at the end of a mostly mundane 24-17 game.
Considering Denver scored the most points ever in an NFL regular season, this was a bit disappointing. The defense dealt with an unusually small lead by shutting out the Chargers through three quarters with a 17-0 lead. There were a couple of squandered chances, though. Donald Butler's improbable end zone pick before halftime took away a possible touchdown, and Matt Prater missed a 47-yard field goal wide left. These are complaints only because we expected more. Still, Denver's defense was tight for 45 minutes. But at the start of the fourth quarter, San Diego finally finished a drive with points when stellar rookie receiver Keenan Allen caught a 16-yard touchdown.
The Broncos responded accordingly on the following drive, with some big help from a questionable penalty. On third down, San Diego's Marcus Gilchrist was called for defensive pass interference on Wes Welker, awarding 23 yards and new set of downs to Denver, but it looked more like an unintentional trip. Welker deftly sold it, and the drive continued, concluding with a Knowshon Moreno score for a 24-7 Denver lead.
If the fourth-quarter Chargers had played the entire game, they might be in the AFC Championship Game. The offense took on a new life, particularly exploiting Broncos corner Quentin Jammer. The Rivers-to-Allen connection produced 142 yards and two total touchdowns. The Chargers cut the deficit to 24-17 with roughly four minutes left, but Peyton Manning and the offense found a way to kill 3:53. And when Manning had an opportunity to put the game away on third down before the two-minute warning, he came through, finding tight end Julius Thomas to all but seal the game.
Three years ago, Peyton Manning was healing from neck surgery. Tonight, he's one win away from a Super Bowl appearance. Modern medicine is neat.