Broncos crush Chargers, prepare for bye week
SAN DIEGO – John Lynch sent the San Diego Chargers into a painful offseason.The Denver safety, who’s from San Diego, keyed a 23-7 Broncos win on Saturday by knocking Drew Brees out of the game with a shoulder injury, then forcing Philip Rivers to fumble in the end zone, resulting in a safety.Tatum Bell scored three touchdowns for Denver, but was held to 52 yards on 17 carries. He needed 131 yards for 1,000. He and Mike Anderson were trying to become the fourth running back tandem in NFL history to finish with 1,000 yards each.The game, played on a rainy afternoon in front of a crowd that included thousands of Broncos fans, meant nothing in the standings.
Denver (13-3) had already clinched the AFC West title and a first-round bye. Quarterback Jake Plummer got banged around a bit, but led the Broncos to a 14-7 halftime lead before making way for Bradlee Van Pelt.San Diego (9-7), which won the division last year, lost three of its last four games. After ending Indianapolis’ shot at a perfect season on Dec. 18, the Chargers were knocked out of the playoff picture with a listless performance in a 20-7 loss at Kansas City on Christmas Eve.San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson did set two club records.His 6-yard scoring run in the second quarter was his 20th touchdown of the season, breaking out of a tie with Chuck Muncie, who scored 19 TDs in 1981. He also eclipsed Hall of Famer Lance Alworth’s team career mark of 9,721 yards from scrimmage, pushing his total to 9,755.Tomlinson hadn’t scored in the previous four games, matching the longest drought of his five-year career. He gained 92 yards on 19 carries, his fifth straight game under 100 yards.
Bell had a 19-yard touchdown run late in the game, one play after Curome Cox intercepted Rivers and returned it 48 yards. The Broncos got another 15 yards after Rivers ripped off Cox’s helmet at the end of the play, drawing a 15-yard facemask penalty.Brees hurt his right shoulder late in the second quarter when he dropped back to pass in his own end zone and was blindsided by the blitzing Lynch, who hacked at his right arm. Brees fumbled and was hit again while going for the ball, which was recovered by Denver’s Sam Brandon at the 1. Bell scored on the next play to give the Broncos a 14-0 lead.Although the Chargers had already been eliminated from the playoffs, coach Marty Schottenheimer didn’t plan to use Rivers, a second-year pro, unless Brees got hurt.Rivers had been in for only one play this year, taking a knee to end a 48-10 win over Buffalo on Nov. 20.Rivers led the Chargers on a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive late in the second quarter, going 3-of-6 for 39 yards. The Chargers lined up for a field goal attempt on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 6, but when the officials reset the play clock, they went for it and Tomlinson scored to cut Denver’s lead to 14-7.
With less than six minutes to play in the third quarter, Rivers dropped back into his own end zone, rolled left, was hit by Lynch and fumbled. Right tackle Shane Olivea jumped on the ball to prevent a Broncos TD.On the same play, Lynch’s legs whipped out and hit Tomlinson, but the running back stayed in the game.Rivers looked like a guy who’d played only sparingly in two seasons. He had some wild overthrows, and some good passes. He finished 12-of-22 for 115 yards.The Chargers will decide in the offseason whether to keep Brees, Rivers, or both. Brees played this season under an $8 million, one-year contract as the team’s “franchise” player. Rivers has four years left on his contract.Plummer completed 8 of 14 passes for 91 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Brees also was 8-of-14, for 68 yards.
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