SAN DIEGO – Three observations from the Broncos’ 16-13 overtime win over the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium here Sunday:
1. MORE PRESSURE.
For the first time in the last few years of duels with Philip Rivers, the Broncos appeared to rattle the veteran quarterback and long-time Denver tormentor. They didn’t force an interception from the league’s leader in that statistic, but they did consistently pressure and rattle him, sacking him three times and forcing multiple hurried throws that sailed wide and just out of the reach of Chargers pass catchers.
Once more, the sacks belonged to the standout edge pass rushers; Elvis Dumervil had two sacks for 23 yards and Von Miller had one for a six-yard loss. Each increased his streak of games with a sack to four, and together they have 16 of the Broncos’ 29 sacks this season. But pressure came from all points, as D.J. Williams, Jason Hunter and Brian Dawkins were among the Broncos who forced Rivers into hurried or errant throws Sunday.
“We spread the wealth,” Dawkins said. “That’s what’s fun about the defense: when you have everybody having a chance to get in on the action: not just those front four guys.
Dawkins’s hit might have been the signature slam of the game; he burst forward on a safety blitz with 5:45 left in regulation and walloped Rivers, forcing an incompletion that ended the Chargers’ drive and gave the Broncos possession at their 26 — from which point they drove 68 yards to a game-tying field goal.
“When your number is called, your eyes light up and you want to get in on the action,” Dawkins said.
And after emerging from the game with no new injuries to their starting 11, one can expect the Broncos’ defensive repertoire to expand a little bit once again this week.
“The formula that we’re using helps the defense, but there’s no doubt they gelled. They’re playing with a lot more swagger and confidence,” Broncos coach John Fox said.
2. IT TAKES SOME LUCK.
Seven weeks ago, the only kind of luck mentioned in conversation about the Broncos had a capital “L” and played his home games in Palo Alto, Calif. Now, it seems as if the Broncos are the benefit of some bout of good fortune on a regular basis: the successful on-side kick against the Dolphins … the holding penalty that negated Jonathan Baldwin’s spectacular catch for the Chiefs … Orlando Franklin’s recovery of Daniel Fells’s second-quarter fumble to set up the Tebow-to-Eric Decker touchdown catch Sunday.
“There is a little bit of luck involved in some of these wins,” tight end Dante Rosario acknowledged.
The fortune that befell Nick Novak and saved the Broncos might have trumped them all. Novak came into Sunday having hit 19 of 22 field-goal attempts — including a solid eight of 11 from beyond 40 yards — but misfired on three kicks Sunday from that range, counting one that was blocked after the Broncos called timeout before his 53-yard overtime attempt. That gave Novak another opportunity, which he hooked wide right.
“I laughed, because it would happen like that,” Rosario said. “The drama of this game, it would come down to something like that.”
Even in San Diego, you could almost hear the collective groan from the Rocky Mountains when the timeout was called as Novak’s aborted attempt was blocked — especially since the timeout-at-the-last-possible-second tactic was brought to prominence by the Broncos in 2007, when Mike Shanahan was coaching. It seemed that turnabout would become fair play.
Running back Willis McGahee didn’t see it that way.
“Believe it or not, I knew something was going to happen after the time out. Then I thought he was going to miss it, anyway,” McGahee said. “I had faith all along. I was sitting right there. I actually told (Jonathan) Wilhite, ‘Don’t worry about it; he was going to miss it.’ And he missed it, and we took advantage of it. ”
3. HOME AWAY FROM HOME.
When Novak lined up for that 53-yard field-goal attempt with 2:36 left in overtime, many Broncos, nervous over the consequences of defeat, turned away, closed their eyes or stared at the ground on the sideline, unable to watch as their fate as playoff contenders rose or fell with the trajectory of the kick.
As the football sailed into the net behind the uprights, a loud roar rose from the crowd — and most thought the game was over. Then they realized that the 15,000-20,000 Broncos fans on hand in enemy territory had made enough noise celebrating the misfire to sound like the rest of the fans exulting over a game-winning kick.
“I kind of got dejected for a second,” Tebow said, “but then I looked up and I saw Brady turn around (celebrating), so I knew we still had an opportunity.”
Added Rosario: “When he missed that field goal at the end of the game, I couldn’t tell if he had made it or missed it, because people were cheering so loud.”
The Broncos have always enjoyed the support of a vocal, if outnumbered, minority of fans in their annual trips to Qualcomm Stadium. But this was the first time in at least a decade that those fans made this stadium sound like the Broncos’ own.