Broncos outfox Chargers with Del Rio at the helm
San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Peyton Manning passed for 330 yards and four touchdowns Sunday and the Denver Broncos held on to get a win under interim head coach Jack Del Rio.
Manning connected with Demaryius Thomas on three of his touchdown passes and Julius Thomas took the other one 74 yards, leading the Broncos to a 28-20 win over the San Diego Chargers in the first of what will likely be several games without coach John Fox.
After Thomas scored three straight touchdowns to help Denver build a 28-6 lead in the third quarter, the Chargers got a pair of touchdowns to make it a game but a final drive ended in a punt.
Manning, who was 25-of-36, helped the Broncos (8-1) kill off the remaining time with a 9-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas on the left side on 2nd-and-7.
The veteran quarterback came up limping on the play after Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget tackled him low, but he called a timeout and was able to stay in the game despite the injury.
Manning, who was reported to be nursing two ankle sprains last month, said he would have an MRI Monday on his lower body.
"I'm pretty sore," he said. "I felt better coming into the game after the bye week. ... (But) it was a critical play in the game. They had some momentum. It was a good aggressive call and a good route by D.T."
Demaryius Thomas finished with seven catches for 108 yards, Julius Thomas had three grabs for 96 and Knowshon Moreno rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries.
Del Rio, the Denver defensive coordinator, is serving as interim coach while Fox recovers from successful aortic heart valve replacement. He faced former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who was hired by the Chargers as head coach in January.
Philip Rivers threw for 218 yards with a touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead, and Ryan Mathews carried 14 times for 59 yards and a score for the Chargers (4-5), who were coming off a tough loss to the Redskins last week. They settled for a tying field goal at the end of regulation despite having a first down at the Redskins' 1-yard line.
They lost this one despite holding the ball for more than 38 minutes to just under 22 minutes for Denver.
"We kept battling and made it a one-score game and had a chance," said Rivers. "Our defense gave us enough opportunities."
The Broncos, fresh off a bye, were averaging 42.9 points per game -- by far the best rate in the NFL, though it took a dip after this one.
It's unclear exactly how much time they will be without Fox, who was taken to the hospital last Saturday after feeling lightheaded during a golf outing in North Carolina.
A surgery Fox planned to have in the offseason was pushed up when testing revealed he needed it as soon as possible and the Broncos said he would miss "several weeks."
"It was a nice afternoon to secure a game ball for coach Fox, who is resting at home. We were glad to do that," said Del Rio. "I talked to him this morning. He's got a lot of energy, he's feeling good."
After Demaryius Thomas' third touchdown, the Broncos offense went suddenly quiet as San Diego made it a game with a pair of scores.
After Chargers linebacker Tourek Williams strip-sacked Manning for a fumble that Donald Butler recovered, Rivers found Woodhead for a 7-yard touchdown.
Mathews capped a 60-yard drive with a 1-yard score, leaping from several yards out and stretching the tip of the ball over the goal line to get the Chargers within 28-20 early in the fourth quarter.
It was San Diego's first rushing touchdown at home since Sept. 16, 2012.
After Denver punted for a third straight time, Rivers and the Chargers got the ball back with 6:43 remaining and converted a 3rd-and-12 on Vincent Brown's leaping catch, but ended up punting.
Manning, after he was hurt, could be heard yelling, "I called a timeout!" to officials -- ensuring he would be able to remain in the game. The 9-yard pass to Thomas had already all but ensured Denver's win but the Broncos got another first down anyway.
"We made enough plays to close it out," said Del Rio. "Not everything exactly how you like it, but I thought (it was) a good gutty effort on the road and a good divisional win."
Earlier, Julius Thomas caught Manning's pass a few yards in front of the line and raced down the right sideline on his 74-yard touchdown reception 5:42 into the game.
Nick Novak kicked field goals from 26 and 40 yards in the second quarter for the Chargers before Demaryius Thomas scored his three touchdowns.
The fourth-year Broncos receiver stretched to get the ball inside the right pylon as he was going out of bounds on an 11-yard catch and he got inside corner Shareece Wright for a 7-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining in the first half.
In between, Novak missed a 37-yard field goal try wide left and the Broncos led 21-6 going into the break.
"Against good teams like this you have to finish drives with touchdowns," said McCoy.
Demaryius Thomas scored his third touchdown on a screen pass he caught on the left side. Finding a seam, he slipped through the heart of the Chargers defense down the middle of the field to make it 28-6 on the first drive of the third quarter.
The Broncos are home against Kansas City next Sunday. The Chiefs, on a bye this week, lead the AFC West with a 9-0 record ... The Chargers play at Miami next Sunday.
11/10 22:09:20 ET