DENVER — A scoreboard operator did what San Diego's defense simply couldn't — rattled Peyton Manning.
The Denver Broncos quarterback was ticked off at the music blaring late in the game as he tried to run out the clock in a 35-21 win over the Chargers on Thursday night. The five-time NFL MVP was even more incensed when they kept showing shots of Philip Rivers on the sideline (the crowd booing each time) and then panning over to him (the fans cheering).
"Our fans are great. Our fans our loud. Our scoreboard operator, it wasn't his best night," Manning said. "I don't think we should be doing that. I don't think we should be showing their quarterback on the sideline. I thought that was disrespectful."
Still, Rivers found it rather amusing.
"I don't really know how to respond to that, other than if you would've told me when I was 10 years, you'd show me in front of 75,000 and get booed and Peyton Manning in the same clip and get cheered, I would've said, 'That would be pretty awesome,'" Rivers said.
The Chargers (5-3) now fall even farther behind the Broncos (6-1) in the AFC West. Really, though, the gap feels much wider.
"They're better than us right now," Rivers said. "They outplayed us."
When the Chargers faced the Broncos last December on a Thursday night, they controlled the clock and kept the ball away from Manning.
Not this time.
Not once the Broncos offense got revved up.
After punting on their opening two possessions, the Broncos scored TDs on five of their next six possessions.
That's just the way the night went for the Chargers.
"It's not discouraging. It's motivating," receiver Eddie Royal said. "We just know what we need to work on."
And plenty of time to fix it, too. The Chargers play just one game in the next 23 or so days.
Truth be known: This wasn't the same Broncos team the Chargers saw a year ago. They're way more explosive in Rivers' estimation.
"They're probably as good with game-changing players that they've ever had," said Rivers, who threw for 252 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. "From the quarterback, to the receivers, to the pass rushers, to the corners.
"When I think about defenses and offenses that are scary, it's who makes game-changing plays. At those positions, they're pretty good — really good."
The ball definitely didn't bounce San Diego's way. Andre Caldwell fumbled on a kickoff, but it was overturned on replay. Safety Eric Weddle had an interception, only to have it negated by a defensive holding penalty. And Weddle forced a fumble early in the fourth quarter, but Wes Welker pounced on it.
"This ball bounces funny sometimes," Rivers said.
Rivers wasn't exactly sharp in this contest. His second interception, by Rahim Moore, came late and ended any comeback attempt.
However, he did hook up with tight end Antonio Gates for two scores, giving the tandem 69, the most in NFL history.
Gates also had 54 yards receiving to move past Hall of Fame receiver Lance Alworth for most in team history. Gates now has 9,610 yards in his career.
"It shouldn't put a damper on that," Rivers said. "Gates deserves that."
Coach Mike McCoy couldn't agree more.
"He's a special player — one of the greatest of all time," said McCoy, who was offensive coordinator in Denver from 2009-12. "He shows up every single day, and that's why you saw me running down to the end zone to make sure I got that ball for him."
NOTES: WR Keenan Allen caught nine passes for 73 yards and one score. ... The Chargers were outrushed 139-61. ... Chargers OLB Dwight Freeney said nothing has changed in regard to his former teammate Manning. He was difficult to sack in practice when they were in Indy and remains so. "Obviously, he's a great player," Freeney said. "You can't give him that many opportunities to score."
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