Entering the 4th quarter Sunday, the Denver Broncos had the San Diego Chargers on their heels and looking like they would be going home. Leading 17-0 and holding Philip Rivers under 50 yards passing, the Broncos’ defense was looking stout heading into the final period of this AFC West playoff clash.
Then, Rivers took over.
The Chargers went on to score 17 points in the fourth quarter while Rivers ended up with almost 200 yards passing in the period. Having the opportunity to tie the game at 24 late in the game, all the Chargers defense had to do was stop Peyton Manning and the Broncos on a 3rd-and-17.
Then, Manning took over.
Manning hit tight end Julius Thomas on a sideline route where the big man dragged his second foot on his way out of bounds and hauled in the catch for a first down. But, later in the drive, the Broncos faced another third down. With six yards to go for a first down, Manning hit Thomas yet again for a crucial new set of downs, ultimately leading to the Broncos sealing a 24-17 victory.
In what ended up being a nail-biter, the Broncos’ defense absolutely collapsed late in the game. Next week, the Broncos face the New England Patriots who are coming off of a 43-22 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts. Fortunately, Manning doesn’t have to travel to Foxboro. But, Manning shouldn’t be the primary concern in this one — contrary to popular belief.
The Denver defense must play a complete game. It’s that simple. Without a complete game by the defense, it doesn’t matter what type of gaudy numbers Manning and his offense put up. Tom Brady is standing on the opposite sideline more than capable of putting up his fair share of points — even if it has to come late in the game, and in bunches.
This is much more than Manning vs. Brady. This game will be about Denver’s defense establishing themselves but also maintaining their performance. Through three quarters against the Chargers, the unit played a phenomenal game. Rivers was held in check and could not get anything going. The Broncos’ defensive scheme was working to perfection. But, what happened in the fourth quarter should alarm Broncos fans, as well as the coaching staff. As they prepare for New England next week, Denver must address the woes they endured in the final quarter against San Diego.