Teams around the league have been searching all season for a way to slow Peyton Manning's record-setting pace with expectedly little success. The San Diego Chargers finally cracked the code, at least for an evening, on Thursday night.
The Chargers used a pounding run game to keep Manning off the field and a stingy defense to limit him while on it as they held the Denver Broncos to their lowest point total of the season in a 27-20 win on Thursday Night Football.
San Diego dominated time of possession, holding onto the ball for nearly 39 of the game's 60 minutes, keeping Manning and the league's No. 1 offense off the field for long stretches. During a 21-point run that stretched from the second to third quarter, the Chargers scored on drives of 75, 43 and 80 yards and ate nearly an entire quarter of game clock in the process.
The key to the Chargers ball possession was the hard-nosed and explosive runnning of Ryan Mathews, who John Gennaro of Bolts from the Blue explains has come up big in recent weeks.
Ryan Mathews got 30(!) touches [on Thursday] just 4 days after getting 32(!) touches against the New York Giants. He wound up with 128 rushing yards, including a 23-yard touchdown, for his fifth 100-plus yard rushing game of the season. That ties him for the most 100-plus yard rushing games this season with Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy.
Of course, time of possession means nothing if the opponent is flying down the field for points every time they get the ball, something Denver has done all season. But not on Thursday. With Wes Welker out the lineup with a concussion, the San Diego secondary was able to lock down on the rest of Manning's primary receivers, forcing the little-used Andre Caldwell to become the main target (59 yards, two touchdowns).
Meanwhile, the Chargers' defensive line caused havoc all night and, as Kyle Montgomery of Mile High Report breaks down, forced a crucial turnover late in the fourth quarter to help seal the deal.
Chargers defender Corey Liuget split the double team of Chris Clark and Zane Beadles to hit Manning, forcing an interception. The Chargers' interception of Manning was the first turnover of the game, but it was the difference-maker, as the excellent field position gave the Chargers an easy field goal.
For those hoping that this game will provide a blueprint for the rest of the league to stop Manning, don't count on it. The future Hall of Famer has made a career out of his ability to prepare and adjust, so don't expect the same thing to work against him twice.