DENVER - Follow along through the unusual series of events and see if you can figure out how the Denver Broncos' won.
Their defense had three interceptions, two of which led to 14 points.
Their defense also came up with a four-down stop off first-and-goal at the 2 to save potentially eight points, and special teams blocked an extra point, which saved them one point.
The Broncos' offense fumbled the ball away twice from deep in the red zone, which cost them 10 points. Their quarterback threw a pick six, which cost them, by literal definition, six points.
Their run of ambulance rides continued with coach Wade Phillips getting transported this time after he was involved in a ferocious sideline collision with an opposing player.
The Broncos played the craziest, most electrifying yet frustrating game of their season here Sunday.
When the madness had ended, the Broncos had won. There may have been chewed up fingernail clippings dropped throughout the stadium floor by the nervous crowd of 75,789. But the turnover-prone Broncos nevertheless defeated the pick-prone, fiercely competitive Philip Rivers and his San Diego Chargers, 27-19, here Sunday on a warm, cloudy Halloween Eve at soon-to-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"We made enough mistakes to probably lose two or three games, in all honesty,'' said Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak. "but we found a way to win. We were challenged today, we were missing some pieces. We were battling our tail off, we lose Wade. So a lot of things going on that usually you don't find a way to get a victory in this league. But we found a way to win so I'm very proud of them for doing that. And obviously we've got to play a lot better.''
The win lifted the Broncos’ record to 6-2 at the halfway point of their regular season while all-but-dashing the Chargers’ hopes in the AFC West as they fell to 3-5 mark.
The Broncos are now set up for an AFC West Division showdown with the 6-2 Oakland Raiders next Sunday night in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in a game that will be televised on 9News.
"A first-place game,'' Kubiak said. "Our division is a great division in my opinion this year. It's going to take a lot, a lot of big games down the road. At the halfway mark I think we know the things we have to improve upon. If you take the word, "consistency," that's something where going to have to find here down the stretch.''
For reasons good and bad, the second quarter of this bizarre game was the time for what may have been the most memorable play halfway through the Broncos season. Broncos’ cornerback Bradley Roby returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown on an incredibly athletic play that was the difference in Denver going up on the Chargers, 10-7.
It then became the most frightening play as during the return, Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was inadvertently blasted by Chargers running back Melvin Gordon. Phillips was standing on the sideline when the collision occurred, fell backward, was taken off the field in a backboard and cart, and then driven out of the stadium by ambulance to a local hospital for evaluation.
Phillips was alert as he left and he watched the game from the hospital. He was released shortly after the game and will be at the office Monday working some more on how to get his defense to play on its first series like it does the rest of the game. The Broncos have been outscored 54-16 in the first quarter this season, yet have managed to win six of eight games.
"I was definitely worried about coach Phillips,'' Broncos star pass rusher Von Miller said. "But right when he came in at halftime they had information for us that said he was going to be all right.''
Broncos linebackers coach Reggie Herring took over defensive play-calling duties, which made sense as inside linebacker Corey Nelson, who was starting his first game, had the speaker in their helmet so they could relay the call to their teammates. Nelson was calling plays because the guy who usually does it on the field, Brandon Marshall, was out with a hamstring injury.
"Reg, he basically helped Wade make the defense,'' Nelson said. "So with him calling it, he knew what to call and how to call it.''
Was Herring a little more aggressive, or less aggressive with his play calling?
"It was a little bit more aggressive,'' Nelson said after careful pause to consider. "A little bit, just a pinch.''
What, Herring was going to call for the 'base' in his first crack at calling plays?
This was still another game in the last two years where the Broncos don't win if they don't a have a great defense.
"No one is waiting around for somebody else to make a play,'' said Miller, who had one of four sacks against Rivers. "We're all out there trying to make plays from left corner to right corner and everybody in between.''
It was a new left corner -- Roby, subbing for injured Aqib Talib, who was scratched with a lower back issue -- who made the biggest play in this game. To begin Roby’s touchdown return, he was first beaten on a crossing route by Chargers’ receiver Tyrell Williams. But Williams bobbled Rivers’ pass and Roby, who was trailing by a step or so, twisted to nab it.
Roby then sped down the left sideline, outraced offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, who appeared to have the cornerback angled off, and Rivers, who also had the angle, for a touchdown.
The Broncos, trailing 7-3 and listless on offense at the time, were up 10-7 with 9:10 remaining in the second quarter. It was the Denver defense's ninth touchdown return, sixth by interception, since the start of last season.
"We're playmakers and it can come from anywhere,'' Roby said. "I think that's one of the bigger reasons we got to the Super Bowl last year and that's one of the reasons why we continue to be successful.''
From the sidelines, Phillips was watching Roby when he was rammed hard by Gordon. Gordon was running a route down the right sideline, when he was forced out of bounds by Miller, who was back covering him one on one
Phillips was quickly attended to by the several members of the Broncos’ medical team. As he was getting carted off, Phillips made sure to move his feet and hands, waving the No. 1 sign with his right index finger to let people know he was relatively OK.
His wife Laurie accompanied him on his ambulance ride. It’s the third time in four games a Broncos player or coach has left the stadium by ambulance. Head coach Gary Kubiak was stricken with a complex migraine condition after the Broncos’ loss to Atlanta on Oct. 9. Left tackle Russell Okung was experiencing concussion-like symptoms after the Broncos loss to San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium on Oct. 13.
It was the second time in the calendar year that Phillips, who at 69 has demonstrated remarkable recovery powers, was a sideline casualty. He was also drilled backwards on the sidelines when he was knocked over by Martavis Bryant during the Broncos’ playoff win in January against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There figures to be in-house discussion that perhaps Phillips should start calling defensive plays from the upstairs' coaches’ box.
Roby was the first-half hero. An interception and lengthy return by Broncos safety Darian Stewart in the third quarter set up another touchdown. Stewart returned his pick 25 yards to the Chargers' 10, from where two Devonate Booker carries gave the Broncos a 17-7 lead.
The Broncos could have won by more except for lost fumbles by quarterback Trevor Siemian off a sack in the second quarter, and rookie running back Devontae Booker in the third quarter.
"We had a lot of help from our defense so we found a way to get it done,'' Siemian said. "There were a lot of inconsistencies across the board and I think that I have a lot of room to get better.''
Siemian was otherwise fortunate as he had two or three potential interceptions that were dropped. But then he got a bad bounce when a pass from near his end zone ricocheted off the hands of slot receiver Jordan Norwood, and into the arms of Charger cornerback Casey Hayward, who returned it 24 yards for a touchdown. That made the scored, 24-19 Broncos midway through the fourth quarter.
The Chargers, who had an earlier extra point kick blocked by Shaq Barrett, went for the 2-point and made it – except tight end Antonio Gates was flagged for a pick. The Chargers then tried their 2-point conversion from the 12 but Jared Crick knocked it down.
Siemian came right back with two huge completions on his next drive – 31 yards down the middle to tight end Virgil Green and 40 yards down the left sideline to Demaryius Thomas.
Siemian finished 20 of 38 for 276 yards with the interception.
"Obviously Trevor made some key plays in the game," Kubiak said. "There was some big drives, some key plays. I know he got hit way too much. I've got to go see why. We help Trevor when we run the ball. We didn't run the ball a lick.''
Booker rushed for 54 tough yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and gained another 30 yards on five receptions. He was making his first career NFL start in place of C.J. Anderson, who went on the injured reserve list Saturday with a torn meniscus. As a team, the Broncos rushed for just 2.3 yards a carry.
"I know that we're missing C.J. today, but that's a done deal,'' Kubiak said. "We have to improve.''
Rivers had a rough game, although he still had several chances to pull it out in the fourth quarter. He finished a poor 20 of 47 passing with three interceptions, although he also threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite failing on two extra-point conversions and coming away with nothing following four downs from the 2, the Chargers still had a chance to tie when they got the ball back at their own 33 with 2:08 remaining. They got the ball to their 46 before turning it over on downs.
"He makes the AFC West the AFC West,'' Miller said of Rivers. "He definitely makes the AFC West great. He's a true competitor. He's a legend as well. He definitely makes coming to work and playing in the AFC West wonderful.''
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