SAN DIEGO – The Denver Broncos held off the San Diego Chargers late rally to win Sunday’s playoff game 24-17 at Mile High Stadium.
On a brisk and overcast afternoon, when a steady wind made it challenging to throw, Peyton Manning did what he couldn’t do last season — guided his top-seeded Broncos to the AFC championship game.
The Chargers made it interesting after being shut out for three quarters by outscoring the Broncos, 17-7, in the fourth quarter, a rally that included a successful onside kick by San Diego.
Keenan Allen caught a pair of touchdown passes from Philip Rivers, and San Diego added a field goal, but the Broncos were able to control the clock with their running game and claim the victory.
Denver had twice as many first downs as San Diego, 26 to 13, and rushed for 133 yards to the Chargers’ 65. San Diego running back Ryan Mathews, slowed by a bum ankle, watched the second half from the sideline.
The Broncos will play host on Sunday to the New England Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady, who directed his team to a 43-22 divisional victory over Indianapolis on Saturday night.
In the NFC championship, Seattle will play host to San Francisco in the third meeting of the season between the NFC West rivals.
San Diego, which barely got into the playoffs with four consecutive victories then upset Cincinnati on the road, couldn’t keep its Cinderella run going. The Chargers’ offense ground to a halt against a Denver defense that stymied them at almost every turn, even without injured star linebacker Von Miller.
Manning, on track for his record fifth NFL most-valuable-player award, quieted the talk that he’s not as good in the playoffs. All week, he was reminded of his 9-11 record in the postseason and eight one-and-done showings.
Sunday, he left no doubt about his excellence, although much of his expertise Sunday was dialing up the right running play.
Denver headed to the locker room with a 14-0 halftime lead, but it could have been worse for San Diego.
On third-and-goal at the four-yard line, Manning dropped back and fired a pass to Eric Decker in the back of the end zone. The ball bounced high off Decker’s chest, however, and was plucked out of the air by San Diego linebacker Donald Butler, who just touched his feet inbounds for a touchback. There were 30 seconds left at the end of the play.
Before that pick, Manning had thrown 39 touchdowns and zero interceptions when starting a play in the red zone.
The Chargers were satisfied to take a knee and get off the field after they were dominated for the two quarters.
San Diego had five possessions in the first half, and they ended: punt, punt, missed field goal — kicker Nick Novak slipped as he made contact with the ball — punt, end of half. The Chargers’ average drive was 11 yards.