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Week 17 Game Recap: San Diego Chargers 20, Denver Broncos 27


What you need to know

San Diego Chargers

Quarterback Philip Rivers looked like he had a solid game, but it should be noted that the vast majority of his production came on one play with broken defensive coverage. Aside from the relatively fluke pass to Tyrell Williams, he had just 148 yards and 1 touchdown. He was under duress for most of the game, and his receivers had a lot of trouble gaining any type of separation

Tight end Antonio Gates found the end zone in the season finale. Gates missed the first four games of the year due to a suspension, but finished with another productive campaign and capped it with another highlight-reel type of score.

The San Diego running back tandem of Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown combined for 36 touches out of 64 offensive plays for San Diego. The conservative script was due in part to Denver's quality defense, but also San Diego's lack of explosiveness in the passing game. The two had 153 total yards on those touches, but neither really broke any huge plays aside from Brown's 20-yard scamper early on.

Denver Broncos

Whether itís Brock Osweiler or Peyton Manning under center, Denverís offense is only as good as its running game.

San Diego Chargers

QB Philip Rivers, 72 offensive snaps, Pass: 21 - 35 - 228 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 2 - 5 - 0
Rivers faced a barrage of pressure, particularly early on. The Chargers kept getting the ball in decent field position due to some early Denver turnovers, but San Diego kept coming up short in terms of capitalizing on any of them. Rivers rarely looked down the field for big gains, in large part due to the lack of protection up front. Once the running game got going a little bit, it opened the passing game to do a bit more. When Rivers was afforded some time to throw, he was effective as usual. He found tight end Antonio Gates for a touchdown by flipping up a 50-50 jump ball to Gates, who did a terrific job of going high to snag it over his man. Rivers' second touchdown was a bit easier, a deep heave to wide receiver Tyrell Williams for a wide open 80-yard bomb with no defender within 20 yards of Williams on the play. Williams was also the target on a late pass attempt by Rivers over the middle with the game on the line, but the ball was mis-thrown since Rivers was under pressure. It was the story of the season for the Chargers, as offensive line protection broke down and forced a poor pass. The lone interception thrown by Rivers was also to Williams, but the pass was put a bit high and behind the target. It went through Williams' hands and into the waiting arms of a Denver defender. Announcer Phil Simms initially felt the pass should have been caught. It certainly COULD have been caught, but it's tough to say that it should have been. Either way, it was the lone turnover on Rivers' day, though running back Danny Woodhead bailed him out of a second one. Rivers bobbled a snap straight in the air. Woodhead alertly grabbed the ball out of the air to save Rivers from another turnover. With all of the offensive line turmoil Rivers faced in 2015, it's hardly a surprise that something like that happened. The Chargers will need to make a focused effort on improving the line in 2016 if they hope to keep their aging franchise quarterback upright for another 16-game season.

RB Donald Brown, 41 offensive snaps, Rush: 21 - 81 - 0, Rec: 2 - 10 - 0 (3 targets)
The stat line doesn't overwhelm you, but Brown was actually very effective against arguably the league's best defense. He consistently fought for extra yardage, and showed a lot of patience in building up his tally. His big gain was a very strong run up the middle, bouncing off of a would-be tackler en route to picking up 20 on the play. With Melvin Gordon as the centerpiece of this backfield, Brown doesn't appear to have much of a future in San Diego. But he showed some nifty inside running and determination in grinding out a very solid performance in the season finale.

RB Danny Woodhead, 43 offensive snaps, Rush: 5 - 11 - 0, Rec: 8 - 51 - 0 (10 targets)
Woodhead didn't do much on the ground, but as usual the NFL's top receiving back this season did the majority of his damage in the passing game. Oddly though, he was taken down short of the first down marker for more often than usual in this game. Charger fans are used to seeing Woodhead taking catches out of the backfield and consistently picking up just enough yardage to keep the chains moving. He's one of the more elusive players in the entire league. But in this one, the Denver defense did a great job of clamping down on him and wrapped him up before he could really do a lot of damage. Late in the game, he saved Philip Rivers from a turnover by grabbling a bobbled snap that had popped straight up in the air. Unfortunately that play ended up costing him a handful of yards since it was recovered in the backfield. On the next play, he caught a short pass but was taken down behind the line of scrimmage, costing himself a few more yards. The quiet afternoon is not an ideal way to end what was a quality season, but he'll return next season with Melvin Gordon to form a formidable 1-2 punch in the San Diego backfield.

WR Javontee Herndon, 43 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 13 - 0, Rec: 3 - 18 - 0 (4 targets)
Despite the early exit of Malcom Floyd and the late exit of Dontrelle Inman, Herndon didn't really see a big spike in opportunities. If anything, he nearly cost them the game when he mishandled a punt late in the game. He tried to catch and spin all in one motion, instead fumbling it as he absorbed a big hit. A few players missed it while it lay on the ground, so the Chargers were fortunately able to recover.

WR Dontrelle Inman, 70 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 25 - 0 (6 targets)
Inman was targeted on a deep ball on the opening drive, but it went nowhere as the pass was well overthrown. For most of the remainder of the game, he couldn't get any separation as he was swarmed by defenders any time the ball got anywhere near him. Late in the game, he made a handful of short receptions in the flat to keep drives moving. But it was his last catch that was his downfall. On a 3rd and 15, he caught a pass and tried to hurdle a defender in the open field. Unfortunately, he failed to clear him and he was hit awkwardly as he somersaulted. He left the field with some assistance, although under his own power, with what appeared to be a lower back injury of some sort.

WR Tyrell Williams, 24 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 90 - 1 (5 targets)
The unheralded Williams was very nearly the hero of the game for San Diego. With the Chargers trailing 17-13 early in the fourth quarter, Williams broke loose in the secondary for an 80-yard touchdown (his first career reception). The man who Philip Rivers calls "the fastest wide receiver on the team" got into the secondary where a mis-read by the defensive back allowed Williams to get open with nobody within twenty yards of him. He hauled in the pass at the 45-yard line and outran the rest of the defenders for the easy score. He was later targeted on the game-clinching interception, as the pass from Rivers was thrown a bit high and behind him. The ball went through his hands, where it was intercepted by the Broncos to essentially end the game.

WR Malcom Floyd, 15 offensive snaps (2 targets)
Floyd's swan song didn't quite go as planned. Playing in the final game of his career, he mis-timed his jump on a 50-50 ball down the sideline early on. As he fell to the ground, he hit his head on the turf. Later in the half, he was seen jogging to the locker room. And in the middle of the fourth quarter, he was officially ruled out from returning with a concussion

TE Antonio Gates, 62 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 34 - 1 (5 targets)
Gates wasn't terribly busy, doing his usual work on crossing routes and underneath work over the middle. While he has slowed from his heyday, he's still simply too big to cover at times. And never was that more evident than on his touchdown reception. He went up and over his defender to grab the ball right over his head, somehow corraling a pass that the defender had better positioning than he did. To add to the difficulty, he also had to maintain possession as he fell hard to the ground and held on with one hand to establish the catch.


Denver Broncos

QB Brock Osweiler, 37 offensive snaps, Pass: 14 - 22 - 232 - 1 TD / 2 INT
Brock Osweilerís statistics against the San Diego Chargers tell the story of a player with extreme highs and lows. In reality, his play was pretty middle of the road; he didnít move the ball as well as his 10.5 yards per attempt suggest, nor was he as careless with the football as his 2 interceptions and lost fumble imply.

Instead, Osweilerís statistics were padded by a pair of huge catch-and-run plays by his starting wide receivers that accounted for 118 of his 232 yards. At the same time, his turnovers came on a pass tipped by a defender, a pass tipped by the intended receiver, and a lost fumble after a blindside sack.

While Osweiler played a decent game against a weak and wounded defense, the quick hook Denver gave him in the second half in favor of Peyton Manning suggests the Broncos believe Manning gives them a better chance to win going forward.

QB Peyton Manning, 29 offensive snaps, Pass: 5 - 9 - 69 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 2 - -2 - 0
Active for the first time since his disastrous game against Kansas City in week 10, Peyton Manning figured to rest his ailing foot in advance of the playoffs. Instead, an early deficit against the San Diego Chargers with home field advantage pressed Manning into service.

While everyone is naturally curious how healthy Manning really is, he unfortunately wasnít asked to do enough to get a great read. On some plays, his mechanics looked a bit awkward, notably kicking his foot up after a short pass over the middle. On the other hand, while his deep passes still fluttered and hung up, Manning made terrific reads, throwing the ball cautiously wide of any defenders and finding receivers who were wide open. With a bye secured, Peyton Manning will have another two weeks to heal his ailing foot while coach Gary Kubiak decides who will get the start for Denver in the playoffs.

RB Ronnie Hillman, 36 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 117 - 1, Rec: 2 - 10 - 0 (3 targets)
Against a poor and injured San Diego defense, Ronnie Hillman was at his best, using his speed to hit the big plays heís become known for at a terrific rate. Eight of Hillmanís 15 carries gained at least six yards. That total includes a trio of 20-yard runs, such as a 23-yard touchdown in the 4th quarter that provided Denver with the winning margin. On most plays, Hillman was simply able to explode through the hole and gain additional yards before the defense had a chance to react.

RB C.J. Anderson, 28 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 95 - 1, Rec: 1 - -5 - 0 (3 targets)
While he may lack backfield-mate Ronnie Hillmanís top-end speed, C.J. Anderson showed off his explosive power against the San Diego Chargers, leveraging good blocking at the point of attack to build up some speed and punish would-be tacklers. Emblematic of his day was a carry on 2nd-and-10 where his offensive line got him a crease and he lowered his shoulder to level a linebacker two yards past the line of scrimmage, bouncing off and falling forward through another tackle for a five-yard gain. Anderson also had a three-play sequence after Denver lost the lead to San Diego where he ran to left corner of the end zone for a touchdown, only for replay to rule him down at the one. He then ran behind the right tackle for a touchdown, only for replay to rule him down at the one again. Finally, he slammed the ball in between the tackles, this time leaving no doubt that he crossed the goal line.

As terrific as Andersonís running was, a crucial fumble early in the 3rd quarter set the Chargers up in Denverís territory, leading to his team relinquishing the lead and eventually to the benching of Brock Osweiler.

WR Demaryius Thomas, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 117 - 1 (9 targets)
Throughout his career, Demaryius Thomas has made a name for himself by taking short passes through the teeth of the defense for long touchdowns. Against the San Diego Chargers, Thomas added yet another such play to his career highlight reel, taking a quick sideline pass on Denverís second play, spinning out of the tackle attempt, outrunning two defenders while tight-roping the sideline, then cutting back to the middle of the field for a 72-yard score. The rest of his game couldnít match the excitement of that one play, but he was able to get wide open on an intermediate targets after Peyton Manning entered the game. Thomas also had a poorly-timed drop inside the 20-yard line with Denver trailing 20-17, on a drive where Denver had to settle for a field goal.

WR Emmanuel Sanders, 55 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 99 - 0 (8 targets)
Typically known for his consistency and reliability over the last two years, Emmanuel Sanders got into the action in Denverís 5-turnover performance against the San Diego Chargers early. On his first target of the game, Sanders caught a pass deep down the left sideline, raced away from the defense to get the ball inside the 10 yard line, only for it to get punched out and recovered by San Diego at the 5. Early miscue aside, Sanders immediately showed his rapport with Peyton Manning when the latter returned in the third quarter; Sanders was the target of 3 of Manningís 4 intermediate-to-deep passes, catching one, having no shot on another, and missing out on a third after Manning threw it well wide of him when he was open.

TE Owen Daniels, 45 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 15 - 0 (1 targets)
With a run-heavy gameplan and both Thomas and Sanders playing well, Owen Daniels only received a single target against the San Diego Chargers, a short pass over the middle on 3rd-and-4 that Daniels took for 15 yards.