Posted January 12, 2014

First Down/Fourth Down: Bolts keep it close, but Broncos advance to AFC title game

AFC West, Denver Broncos, NFL Playoffs, San Diego Chargers
It wasn't pretty by any means, but Peyton Manning's Broncos got it done.

It wasn’t pretty by any means, but Peyton Manning’s Broncos got it done. (Jed Jacobsohn/SI)

None of the divisional playoff games were pretty, but it’s safe to say that most of America got the conference championships it wanted as a result. By beating the Carolina Panthers, the San Francisco 49ers punched their ticket to Seattle to renew the NFL’s best current rivalry. And with their 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers, the Denver Broncos advanced to their first AFC Championship Game since 2005, giving everyone another opportunity to see teams led by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady compete against each other.

For the Broncos, this win was the culmination of a process that had taken a year, and the elimination of a lot of bad memories. On Jan. 12, 2013, Denver lost a double-overtime heartbreaker to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round and had all offseason to reflect on the missed opportunities. The road past those demons wasn’t textbook, but it was good enough.

“We’ve worked on that all season,” Manning told CBS’ Tracy Wolfson about his team’s ability to finish things this time. “When you have a game that ends like it did last year, it becomes an offseason focus point and an in-season focus point. You do a lot of situational work throughout the season — first, our defense, game on the line, who’s gonna win? It was good to see all that work pay off in that situation tonight. Hopefully, we can do it again next week.”

Come Sunday, they’ll hope to capitalize on the kinds of missed opportunities they missed against San Diego. Had everything gone according to plan, this could have been a blowout. But between their own red-zone fiascos and San Diego’s stubborn refusal to go away quietly, the Broncos had quite the fight on their hands.

More observations from Denver’s close victory:

• First Down: Denver’s pass defense… for the most part.

The Broncos ranked 21st against the pass in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted metrics this season, but they turned it around against Philip Rivers, especially in the first half. Rivers completed five-of-eight passes for just 20 yards in the game’s first 30 minutes, and he was sacked three times. But as the game progressed, especially after cornerback Chris Harris was injured, Rivers started to find his groove, finishing with 18 completions in 27 attempts for 217 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. Rivers finally started to find rookie receiver Keenan Allen in the second half, and the Broncos had no answer for that — especially cornerback Quentin Jammer. Allen finished his day with six catches for 142 yards and both of San Diego’s touchdowns — becoming the first rookie in the Super Bowl era to amass more than 100 yards and two scores in a playoff game — and the Chargers had to be left wondering what might have been.

• Fourth Down: D.J. Fluker’s first drive.

Part of the problem in the first half was that Rivers didn’t just suffer those three sacks, but also he was under constant pressure, and the Chargers punted on three of their first four drives. Right tackle D.J. Fluker was a problem, especially on San Diego’s first drive. Fluker gave up sacks to end Jeremy Mincey and linebacker Shaun Phillips a few plays apart, and showed a vulnerability to inside moves that plagued him at Alabama, as well. The big rookie has a bright future, but he needs to be a bit more nimble out there.

• First Down: Peyton Manning’s first drive.

While the Chargers were figuring things out on offense, Manning was carving their defense up. Denver’s first drive was a 14-play, 86-yard masterpiece of no-huddle flash in which Manning hit five receivers and finished things off with a two-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. Still, Manning threw for just 100 of his 250 yards in the first half, and this was an issue that would bite the Broncos all day: They left at least as many points on the field as they actually scored.

• Fourth Down: Denver’s scoring aversion.

It wasn’t pretty. There was an almost touchdown to Wes Welker that was dropped, a throw to Eric Decker in the red zone that was bobbled and picked off by linebacker Donald Butler, and a fumble by Julius Thomas that shouldn’t have been a fumble at all (more on that later). Manning finished with 25 completions in 36 attempts, and had his receivers been on point all day, this game could have gotten out of hand a lot sooner than it actually did. Winning ugly is an important and valuable skill, and the Broncos proved that they have it, but there will be a lot of unpleasant tape review this week on the offensive side of things. Oh, and there was the Trindon Holliday kick return touchdown that was negated by a block in the back.

• First Down: Donald Butler’s red-zone pick.

Butler’s interception near the end of the first half may have been set up by Decker’s bobble, but it’s worth reviewing anyway, because the fourth-year linebacker did an amazing job of keeping his feet in-bounds. Sadly, it was too late in the first half for the Chargers to capitalize … which kind of summed up their day.

(GIF via Bleacher Report.)

• Fourth Down: What constitutes a catch? Does anybody know anymore?

Yes, we’re all sick of the bad officiating narrative, but if the NFL is going to throw this many hanging sliders at us, who are we to keep the bat on our shoulder? The crew in this game was led by referee Clete Blakeman, who’s had more than a few fiascos this season, and had more than one in this game. The most glaring was the ruling that Julius Thomas fumbled with 14:17 left in the second quarter and that the Chargers recovered the ball. The ruling was upheld, but it certainly didn’t look like a catch — not to us, and not to a couple of notable former officials.

(GIF via Bleacher Report.)

Later in the game, according to Pereira, Blakeman’s crew had to be advised that they were spotting the ball on the wrong 45-yard line after a highly questionable pass interference penalty. As we’ve said many times before, this is unfortunately par for the course at this point — with Blakeman, and with too many of his comrades.

40 comments
BarrySoetoro
BarrySoetoro

I love Peyton,but an Idiot defense against NE will Again let Peyton down,but all you will hear is Peyton can't win the big one.All those years at Indy Peyton had to carry an Idiot defense and it's the same in Denver.

pvs
pvs

Bilichick will devise a great game plan against the Broncos. The Broncos will plan to stop the Pats red hot punishing running game. I expect Brady to start the game with play-action to keep the Broncos defense off-balance. The Pats have a powerful rushing attack and will be able to move the ball with the run when they need to but I think Brady goes after the Broncos 27th ranked pass defense with a good blend of pass and running plays. I do not expect them to run the ball as much as they did against the Colts. Broncos will have personnel on the field to stop the run and Brady will play to the their weakness exploiting their mediocre pass defense. The X factor in this matchup will be the Pats ability to move the ball on third and 3 or 4 with either the run or pass.This should be a close game and turnovers may be the determining factor. 

btcvsolo
btcvsolo

An odd link title...


Aren't ALL 4 teams a win/game away from the Super Bowl?


Definitely picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue....

magic mushroom
magic mushroom

Nothing to take away from the Broncos, they won this one. Chargers shot themselves in the foot with horrible 3 qtrs of offensive football. 


I hope it's going to be a good AFC and NFC finals. As a Patriots fan, i did see the tripping non call on Luck was ridiculous, that call could have very well changed the game. However Luck did throw multiple picks and lost the game and he was classy enough to admit that. 


Patriots this year have already come a long way with all the significant injuries and whole lot of change to the offensive team, it's the one team that most people did not think would make it this far. Broncos are superbowl and bust team this year, if they lose to the Patriots at home, that's a significant blow. 

Scramble
Scramble

The NFL got this year what the Ravens denied last year, a Manning/Brady AFC title game. It took a couple non calls in the Colts/Pats game to keep the Colts from having a chance to win. It's not about who wins or loses, just how much money the NFL makes. I just hope they paid their electric bill this year.

phil222
phil222

Looking forward to see Broncos and 49ers in next rounds. Broncos dominated the game from beginning and Hope they will do same in next round.

Heard Chris is out for rest of the games and will have knee surgery.Bad news for his fans :(



PubliusK
PubliusK

So....when the Pats send the January loser home, again, will they not play a super bowl?  3 teams are one win away and Manning is in the headline.  It will be hilarious when your Sportsman of the Year who cannot win when it matters unless his defense is spectacular, hangs his head and shrugs his shoulders, again.

geewhiz
geewhiz

Rivers turned in another patented choke job in the playoffs.  Pretty much what I expected.

George
George

Extra!  read all about it!!!


Manning puts a bud lite in his mouth

and Rivers hangs self with a bolo tie!!!


:D


beast
beast

2 wins this weekend were giveaways by the losing team. The Saints and Chargers could've won their games but they simply made stupid decisions and wasted opportunities. 


Seattle and Denver are 2 very lucky teams right now. Neither faced a competent opponent. 

dchiu2013
dchiu2013

What game was this writer watching? The Broncos dominated the game from beginning to end. They ran the ball into the heart of Charger's defense. That is power football; the same game plan the NE Patriots used and that is playoff football when weather gets cold and windy.  I expect the AFC championship game to be low scoring and both offenses running the ball a lot.  Final score:   Den 23  NE 20

Joebuckster
Joebuckster

They all got it wrong. The aforementioned play was a completion and a first down, not a fumble or incompletion. Thomas' butt hits the ground a fraction of a second before the ball is stripped. He's down by contact. DOESN'T REALLY MATTER NOW, DOES IT??


BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Joebuckster
Joebuckster

Title says 'Denver struggled'... How's that? They dominated the Bolts for 3 1/2 quarters, were up 17 points with 8 minutes to play, and would have been further ahead if not for some drops/bad calls/unlucky plays. Desperate teams playing catch up in 'garbage time' can usually make it look closer than it actually is when they abandon their game plan and try anything. This was a decisive Broncos win. Now San Diego fans can stop pretending they actually care about football once again. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Cool
Cool

After a full season of bad calls, and then the NFL telling it's officials to keep calling them like they did the regular season. are we really surprised we are still getting bad calls?

sean2762
sean2762

Broncos will have to play much better than that if they want to win it all.

Doug92352
Doug92352

@Scramble now all they have to do is put up with Belecheat and the Hoodie again.

MMoney0021
MMoney0021

@Scramble Are you whining about the pass interference call on Wes Welker on a pass that sailed 10-15 yards overthrown that would have given the Chargers the ball down 17-7 with a change in momentum?  Or are you only seeing what you want to see because you dislike the Patriots?  Bottom line is the 2 better teams advanced this week.  Period.

nowhereman222
nowhereman222

@beast How is Denver lucky exactly?  Seems like Denver gave SD some chances with their own screw ups.  

George
George

@beast  San Diego got BEAT - and so said their coach and quarterback after the game. 


The Saints weren't even IN it.   


Wonder where you live  (2 possibilities)

See ya next September, dork.


:D


leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@beast Considering how many dubious calls went against Denver, and how many almost-points the Broncos had that 9 times in 10 they get (Welker's drop, Decker's bobble, etc.), it was pretty clear Denver was the better team.


So the better team won... despite all the pre-game media infatuation with the Chargers' postseason prospects.  So it's ironic how you refer to them as not a 'competent opponent'.  No one at all was saying that before the game.



As for Saints-Seahawks... dome teams lose when playing outside in cold weather in January.  This is a time-tested fact of the NFL post-season.  No one should have given good odds to either the Saints or the Colts this week.

anon76
anon76

@beast 


Carolina may have played toughest of the losers, but are you going to try and say that 4-INT, swiss-cheese defense Indy were competent opponents?

beast
beast

@dchiu2013 The Broncos NEVER dominated the game. The Chargers came in a were incompetent on offense for 3 quarters. 

Then they dominated in the 4th and the Broncos escaped with a win. 


It took lots of bad coaching from the Chargers to secure the win for the Broncos. 

nowhereman222
nowhereman222

@Joebuckster look at it this way, if Julius Thomas's "catch and fumble" were inthe endzone, would they have called that complete?  Not in a million years.   It was an incomplete pass

George
George

@sean2762 I think even bronco fans would agree with that.  They should have buried the chokers in the third quarter.   Pats won't be so "obliging"


leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@sean2762 This I can agree with.  Welker and Decker can't steal 14 points from their own team and hope to win when/if they play the Seahawks, and probably the Pats, too.

nowhereman222
nowhereman222

@MMoney0021 @Scramble even if they didn't call the interference on Welker, they called holding on Weddle against Julius Thomas (and he was mugged).  So Broncos would have gotten a first down anyway.  

mvd
mvd

@anon76@beastCaroline played terrible offense.  You are inches away and you cannot punch it in?  Then repeat that process few minutes later?  They left 10 points on the table in the 1st half alone. They deserved to lose for all their trash talk and behaviour.  Their coach did not try to stop it is another matter.  Did you see how many Pats players pulled their mate when he tried to get in trouble?  Discipline is a key factor in team sports and one bad move can make you lose the game and thats what happened when Carolina players kept giving away free 1st downs due to penalties.  Indy were competent based on their heroics against the Chiefs and all the hype.  Everyone forgot that NE has a great running game that will burn the clock and wont give as many opportunities to Luck as his luck ran out, put him under pressure that resulted in more interceptions.  When Chiefs lost Jamal, their run game was lost, NE have no such problems as they can bring in 3-4 RBs to do the job.  Blount could have had 6 touchdowns and more yardage if Belichik had not put in Ridley but that was done with a purpose, to make him more confident for greater challenges to come in 2 remaining games this season.  I can see the running game pound the Broncos and tire their defense so much in that thin air, that Brady can go for the kill in the 4th quarter with his passing game.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@anon76 @beast Exactly.  Indy was easily the weakest of the divisional round opponents.  


It's cute how quickly everyone has forgotten that the Chargers had won 5 (or was it 6?) straight coming into the game on Saturday, and how everyone and their grandmother had them as the vogue darkhorse to come out of the AFC.

Jack's back
Jack's back

@anon76@beastCarolina was GIVEN a "Win" vs. NE . . . everybody with any football knowledge KNOWS that . . . certainly, it was amongst the most disgraceful NFL 'non-calls' of the entire season (especially, with the flag being "picked up" after being thrown [correctly thrown, I must add].  So, you're on 'rocky ground' commenting upon the worthiness of the Colts as good opponents . . .


You MUST be living under a rock . . . these very same Colts had BEATEN Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, and Kansas City (2x) this season [ALL Play-Off teams] . . . you just DON'T KNOW the NFL; you must be the MOST "fair-weather" of fans.


Learn just a few things before you post yet more, ignorant garbage.

George
George

@beast @dchiu2013 Next weekend, when the championships are being decided, go dig up used condoms on the beach, choker.  Your team LOST.


:D


leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@beast @dchiu2013  They were up 17 - 0 at the half, you dork, and the Chargers O was incompetent for so long as a direct result of Denver's pass-rush (and until Allen was freed from Harris' coverage by injury).


If that doesn't qualify as 'domination' to you for any part of the game (like, say, 75% of it), then you have your own personal definition of the term that isn't actually consistent with the dictionary.

anon76
anon76

@beast @dchiu2013 


Uh, making a team look incompetent is pretty much the definition of dominating.  The Broncos rolled up 261 yards of offense, and 102 return yards in the first 3 quarters.  In contrast, the Chargers had 75 yards of offense and no return yardage.  Yeah, that's being dominated.  


The Chargers did get plenty lucky to recover an onside kick (and that Denver's #2 corner got injured), but they didn't dominate a darned thing.

MMoney0021
MMoney0021

@nowhereman222 @MMoney0021 3rd and long, that penalty had little to no impact on the actual throw to Welker.  But thats not even my point.  My point is people tend to come out of the wood works whenever a call goes NE's way (they must have missed the Carolina and NY game this year).  Bottom line is, there are plenty of calls that are missed throughout a game and non of them this week had any impact on New England and Denver advancing.  The better teams won.  

anon76
anon76

@leehwgoc


I'll agree with you on good teams not having to rely on desperation throws to win, but Jack's right that the call should have been defensive PI.  When Lester broke on the ball he was behind Gronk.  If Gronk had been free to come back to the ball as well, he would have had a fighting chance for it.  It wouldn't have been a gimme catch, but it was definitely a good enough chance to earn the flag.

anon76
anon76

@Jack's back


Fairweather fan?  Buy a clue Jack.  By your own logic, if Indy was a great team, then San Diego was also a great team because they comprehensively took apart the Colts this season.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@Jack's back @anon76 @beast Uh, no, Jack.  Gronk was in triple coverage and the throw wasn't going to get to him regardless.  


And any time a team has to try to win with a desperate last-second forced throw into the end-zone, that tells you they weren't playing like a deserving winner for the most of the game to begin with.