Chargers beat Broncos 23-9 despite feeble offense
By ARNIE STAPLETON
DENVER (AP) Philip Rivers doesn't care that the Chargers must hit the road on wild-card weekend despite winning a dozen games, including a 23-9 nail-biter in Denver on Sunday in which he completed just 14 passes.
Nor does he mind facing the Baltimore Ravens, who thumped the Chargers 22-10 last weekend in Los Angeles.
The Chargers have won six straight on the road and went 7-1 away from home with their only road loss coming literally up the road to the Rams back in September.
For their first playoff appearance in five years, the Chargers will face a rejuvenated Ravens team that's won six of seven under rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and features the league's No. 1 defense.
"It's a heck of a challenge," Rivers said. "I don't think there was a team that wasn't going to be a heck of a challenge. ... They're all good. That team outplayed us last week and it will be a new game, new everything. We'll see who can play the best this time."
Were it not for a last-second loss to the Broncos at home in November, the Chargers would have supplanted the Chiefs as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and earned a first-round bye.
So, it turns out the Broncos (6-10) were the spoilers even though they lost again Sunday. That's of no consolation to a franchise careening into another offseason of uncertainty after posting double-digit losses in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1966-67, an ignominy that could cost second-year coach Vance Joseph his job .
"I want to come back and make this thing right," said Joseph, who's expected to meet with general manager John Elway on Monday morning to learn if he'll get that opportunity.
Joseph acknowledged an 11-21 record isn't good enough by the Broncos' standards, "but I think we've put a lot of work in. There's a foundation that's been laid here that should pay off in the future."
That bedrock, said defensive end Derek Wolfe, is a never-quit attitude that was on display again Sunday.
"V.J., he's one of my favorite people on this planet. I love that guy with all my heart and I've got a lot of respect for him," Wolfe said, adding that he'd hate to see the Broncos go in search of their fourth coach in six seasons.
Rivers was just 14 of 24 for 176 yards and a touchdown and he threw two interceptions in the first quarter, something that's happened just twice before in Rivers' 15-year NFL career.
"It's not as good as we want to play, but again, I don't see any pattern," Rivers said of the offensive struggles in back-to-back games. "I really don't buy into patterns or momentums in the games. It hasn't been as good. I think you look at our collective body of work this year and it's been good enough to win 12 games."
And the Broncos were bad enough to lose 10.
They were done in mostly by their feeble offense that punted on its first drive for the ninth straight game and which managed a mere two touchdowns in its last 34 first-half drives, endangering offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave no matter who's coaching the team in 2019.
Denver's offense also accounted for nine points by the Chargers.
After Janovich's first career TD pulled Denver to 14-9 with 10 minutes remaining, cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. stepped in front of rookie receiver Courtland Sutton and picked off the 2-point conversion attempt. He slipped Suttons' tackle at the goal line and raced 102 yards to give the Chargers a 16-9 lead.
Then, Rivers had his only sustained drive, capped by Austin Ekeler's 1-yard TD run .
Rivers' only TD throw was a 3-yard toss to Mike Williams that made it 14-3 came after Joey Bosa's fumble recovery at the Denver 16.
The Chargers took a 7-3 halftime lead thanks to a defensive touchdown .
Keenum hit Royce Freeman with a low screen that he didn't secure. A hard hit by cornerback Desmond King II to a prone Freeman popped the ball loose, and linebacker Kyle Emmanuel scooped it up and ran 11 yards for a 7-0 lead the Chargers would never relinquish.
ALL FOR NAUGHT
Rivers was intercepted twice in the first quarter for just the third time in his 15-year career. However, the Broncos failed to convert interceptions by rookie Isaac Yiadom and Will Parks into points.
Chargers: LB Jatavis Brown injured his right ankle tackling Freeman on the final play of the first quarter.
Chargers: Head to Baltimore for wild-card weekend.
Broncos: Embark on another offseason of change with big questions yet again at coach and QB.
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Updated December 30, 2018