NFL: Broncos defeat Chargers 28-20
San Diego • If a football field were a classroom, Peyton Manning would be the kid with his hand up, ready not only to state the correct answer, but prove the teacher wrong.
With class playing out at Qualcomm Stadium here Sunday on a spectacular November afternoon, Manning's old instructor, Mike McCoy, came up with the tired old keep-away plan. Despite ridiculously limited playing time, Manning was absurdly efficient in leading the Broncos and interim head coach Jack Del Rio past McCoy's San Diego Chargers, 28-20, before a sold-out crowd that was at least 30 percent dressed in Denver orange.
"I've been in those type of games before," said Manning, who took a late-game shot to his troublesome right ankle and will have a precautionary magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday. "You never know what a team's plan is going to be on offense and defense. But you knew early, it was only one possession in the first quarter.
"We knew it wasn't going to be many possessions and we had to be efficient when we had the ball."
Football coaches think they're so smart. Did McCoy really believe they can come up with a strategy to defeat Manning?
"He thought he did," said Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, a disruptive force in the first half. "Everybody tries to keep the ball out of his hands. At the end of the day, Peyton is Peyton. He knows how to do it. You can't change the rules. Eventually, he does have to get the ball."
McCoy worked directly with Manning as the Broncos' offensive coordinator last season. Now that he's the Chargers' head coach, McCoy believed the best way to stop Manning was to keep him on the sideline.
"It does make sense to try and keep a great player on the sideline if you can," said Del Rio. "You can't fault him for trying."
The plan hasn't worked yet. In the first half, McCoy's Chargers held the ball for more than 22 minutes. Yet, the first half scoreboard displayed the contradictory numbers of Broncos 21, Chargers 6. Officially, the Broncos had the ball only 7 minutes and 31 seconds, but it was enough for Manning to pass for 243 yards and three touchdown passes to a guy named Thomas: Tight end Julius Thomas caught one and receiver Demaryius Thomas got the other two.
Manning would connect with Demaryius Thomas for another touchdown to start the second half and the Broncos were up 28-6, then held on.
"We scored so it wasn't that bad," Demaryius Thomas said. "But we'd like to have it more so our defense can get off the field."
McCoy tried to turn a track meet into a crawl. What he discovered is it's difficult to finish when playing slow.
Manning and the Broncos' offense played fast and scored fast. McCoy's offense, led by quarterback Philip Rivers, held the ball, but forgot to score.
"Against good football teams like this, you have to finish drives in the red-zone area," McCoy said.
The victory improved the Broncos' record to 8-1 and sets up an AFC West showdown Sunday night against the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field.
The Chiefs are keen on bringing pressure off the edge with outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. This might be a matchup problem for the Broncos. Manning was blasted from the blindside in the third quarter Sunday when left tackle Chris Clark was beat by outside linebacker Tourek Williams for a fumble-inducing sack that led to a touchdown.
"I hate these fumbles, but they are all when I'm throwing," Manning said. "I'm conscious of protecting it when I'm in the pocket but, I haven't quite figured out how to not fumble when they hit you while you're not throwing."
Manning has been playing through right ankle pain, an injury aggravated on his final, game-clinching completion when he was struck low by Chargers' defensive end Corey Liuget.
"Pretty sore," Manning said Sunday night. "They kind of got me twice in that lower area. I felt better coming into the game after the bye week, but pretty sore. I'll get an MRI tomorrow so I'll know a little more then."
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