If you think about it, the Denver Broncos owe a bit of gratitude to the San Diego Chargers, and to quarterback Philip Rivers in particular. It was Rivers who initiated the turning point in Denver’s season that helped catapult them to a 13-3 record, the top seed in the AFC playoffs, and the team with the best odds (5-2 according to Vegas) of winning the Super Bowl.
It all happened back in Week 6. The Broncos faced a 24-0 halftime deficit on a Monday night in San Diego. After an abysmal first half, the Broncos were staring down the barrel of a 2-4 record. They would be two games behind the Chargers in the division and with their bye coming up they would have two weeks to stew over their horrendous effort on national television and their poor start to the season.
But then things started to change. On the opening drive of the second half, Peyton Manning hit Demaryius Thomas for a 29-yard touchdown pass to cut San Diego’s lead to 24-7. That touchdown got the Broncos on the scoreboard, got them back in the game, and got Manning started on a second half in which he completed 13 of 14 passes.
With Denver starting to swing the momentum, Rivers took over in handing the Broncos the game. Rivers fumbled the ball on a sack by Elvis Dumervil and Tony Carter picked it up and ran 65 yards for a touchdown. After Rivers failed to get the Chargers offense going, Manning drove the Broncos down the field again and connected with Eric Decker on a 7-yard touchdown pass, to bring the Broncos within three points at 24-21.
Rivers then continued his meltdown by throwing an interception to Carter that led to a 21-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Brandon Stokley, giving Denver its first lead of the game. Rivers finished things off by throwing a pick six to Chris Harris, extending the Broncos lead to 35-24.
In the end, Rivers was responsible for six turnovers, including two on touchdowns scored by the Denver defense, while Manning threw touchdowns to three different receivers. In perhaps the lowest moment of his career, Rivers triggered an epic second-half collapse by the Chargers and single-handedly delivered the Broncos a win that put both teams at 3-3 heading into their bye week.
The rest is history. Rivers and the Chargers would never recover; that loss would be one of seven losses in a stretch of eight games, almost all of which were close and came in heart-breaking fashion. Ultimately, the Chargers finished 7-9, far from the playoff picture. Meanwhile, the Broncos not only won that game, but they won their next ten games as well, finishing with a 13-3 record, the top seed in the AFC, and as heavy favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
There’s no way of knowing whether things would have been different for the Broncos had they not come back to win that game. It’s possible that Denver still would have won its final 10 games of the season following their bye week and been considered favorites heading into the AFC playoffs. But that Monday night was a turning point in their season. It was the night where no task became too difficult for the Broncos to accomplish, whether it be coming back from a 24-point halftime hole or winning a Super Bowl. It was the game that started their 11-game winning streak and propelled them to the top seed in the AFC. It was an important win at the time, and it remains one of the most important games of the season for the Broncos, as they begin their postseason quest towards winning a Super Bowl.