Week 17 Game Recap: Denver Broncos 23, San Diego Chargers 7
What you need to know
There was a constant driving rain throughout the game that made passing the ball and holding onto passes extremely difficult. Add to that the fact that both starting quarterbacks were out of the game by the third quarter, and you had the makings of a sloppy passing day.
HC Mike Shanahan was careful with QB Jake Plummer and WR Rod Smith who played sparingly. Plummer actually stayed in through the end of the first half, but was taking a lot of hits and there was no reason to subject him to any more.
Safety John Lynch returned home and put on quite a show. He forced two fumbles, including one in the end zone that resulted in a safety and another at the one yard line that resulted in a Denver touchdown on the next play.
RB Tatum Bell entered the game needing 131 yards to join Mike Anderson as only the fourth RB tandem in history to each gain 1,000 yards in the same season, but Bell came up a bit short. He totaled just 52 yards, but more than made up for the low yardage total by finding the end zone three times.
QB Drew Brees suffered a nasty-looking injury to his throwing shoulder late in the first half. It was later reported that Brees had dislocated his shoulder and will need surgery to correct it. He also may have torn the labrum, which would make his injury much worse and would sideline him for a much longer period of time.
It was revealed after the game that RB LaDainian Tomlinson has not only been playing hurt, but has been playing with a fracture in his rib cage. Tomlinson said that this game was the first time since suffering the injury that it didnít bother him much. And he responded with his first touchdown in over a month, and generally looked much improved over recent weeks.
WR Eric Parker led all receivers with 8 receptions and 92 yards, and triggered a $500,000 bonus in his contract with his fourth reception of the game.
What you ought to know
Itís difficult to gauge how well Van Pelt did as a quarterback, since he spent most of his time running around and not throwing the football. He threw just 8 passes while taking off and running ten times. The Chargers incredibly didnít have many answers for Van Pelt. He wasnít catching anyone by surprise; he simply ran away from them. On the rare occasions he did throw the football, it didnít look very pretty so perhaps he knew what he was doing. Van Pelt was bailed out on one occasion when LB Shawne Merriman dropped a sure interception.
Plummer played only the first half before HC Mike Shanahan removed him from the action. With a bye week next week already secured, it was evident that Shanahan didnít want his QB becoming too rusty in preparation for their divisional playoff game in two weeks. Plummer was removed in time to avoid any more punishing hits from San Diego defenders, who were relentless in their pursuit. The game plan appeared to be that theyíd have Plummer take a lot of three-step drops and release the ball. This would enable him to avoid so many big hits. It worked, to a point. He may have avoided any extra hits, but he still had to deal with a good amount of punishment for someone who didnít need to be in the game. Plummer avoided an early miscue when a near-interception at the hands of Clinton Hart was dropped He was also bailed out on a possible lost fumble when OL Matt Lepsis dove onto the football and saved a turnover.
Bell obviously didnít have a great yardage day, getting only a little above three yards per carry on the afternoon. He was bottled up right from the outset, and found very little running room. Bell was in the game to try and get the 131 yards needed to join Mike Anderson as the fourth set of teammates (and first since 1995) to each gain 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. Bell came up short on the yardage, but did manage to find the end zone on three occasions. The first two touchdowns were more a product of Denverís excellent field position than anything else, but the third (from 19) was a nice run on which he broke several tackles on his way to paydirt.
Dayne impressed once again today when given an opportunity with legitimate touches. He toted the ball 13 times and averaged five yards per carry. He looked good doing it, and has now responded well every single time heís been called upon to help the team win a game.
Lelie remained in the game until the very end, which may be good or it may be bad. Itís good because he got to play the entire way. Itís bad because normally teams with nothing to play for will protect their stars from injury. The fact that Lelie was still playing late in the game suggests that no one with Denver considers him indispensable anymore.
Smith snagged his one reception early in the contest and then left for good soon thereafter.
Despite the decent amount of looks, Alexander did pretty much nothing with the passes. Several were off-target, but one would expect more than 1 reception from him.
Putzierís main contribution in the game was his lone reception, on which he was absolutely drilled by LB Randall Godfrey and left the game with an injury.
Elam missed his only field goal attempt of the game, a chip shot from 28 yards out. Elam had been perfect on his last 18 straight attempts from under 40 yards.
Denver became the first team in over a month to allow a rushing touchdown to LaDainian Tomlinson. Of course, at one point this season he had tied the league record for most consecutive games with a score, so itís not as if itís embarrassing to be in that situation for Denver. In fact, early on they did a fairly solid job on him. He found the running lanes to be a bit small, and was never really able to shake tacklers either with moves or with strength. As the game went on, Tomlinson got into a bit more of a rhythm and finished near 100 yards for the game. Of course, by late in the contest Denver was perfectly willing to sacrifice yardage on the ground because of the big lead. All in all, it was a very solid performance by them.
Itís not as if Drew Brees was lighting Denver up when he was in the game, but it was soon apparent that Philip Rivers, at least right now, is no Drew Brees. While Brees was having trouble finding the end zone, Rivers had trouble simply finding a receiver. Denverís defenders got to Rivers a ton with multiple blitzes at various times. Two such blitzes by S John Lynch really made all the difference in the game. His first big play came when he forced Drew Brees to fumble the ball away at the one yard line. This accomplished two things. One, Denver recovered the ball. Two, Brees was hurt on the play and didnít return. His replacement, Philip Rivers, did not play well. His first pass was nearly picked off, and then at various times he did get intercepted and also lost a fumble. The lost fumble was also at the hands of Lynch, who knocked it away in the end zone where it was recovered by the Chargers for a safety. CB Champ Bailey had some very choice words after the game for both Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, saying, ďThey both look the same to me. Neither of them got it done.Ē LB Ian Gold lost a glorious opportunity for a touchdown when he dropped a sure INT/TD return pass in the first quarter. Those with the Broncos defense had to be happy with the way the team played, though they could have done a bit more had they been luckier. On one particular play, Philip Rivers appeared to have fumbled the ball but it was ruled incomplete on the field Replays clearly showed that he fumbled the ball, and it may have gone for a touchdown the other way as a Denver defender scooped it up and had no one between him and the end zone.
It wasnít the most auspicious beginning for Philip Rivers. His very first pass of the game to Antonio Gates was nearly intercepted, and it took an excellent play by the tight end to knock the ball away. It didnít get much better from there. Rivers fumbled once in the end zone, resulting in a safety, and was later intercepted when he tried forcing a pass into traffic for Gates. He was actually bailed out on yet another fumble by the officials when they ruled he had thrown an incomplete pass. Replays clearly showed that he fumbled the ball, and it may have gone for a touchdown the other way. Nearly all of his passes were just a bit ďoffĒ, either thrown behind the receiver or at their feet. Basically, he played like someone who has very little NFL experience.
QB Drew Brees suffered a potentially serious shoulder injury. Brees dislocated his right shoulder when he dove onto a pile to try and recover a fumble. His arm was pinned underneath another player as his body rolled forward, and the injury looked bad at the time. Brees didnít appear to be in excruciating pain, but he didnít look all that comfortable, either. He held his arm straight in front of himself as he walked off the field, and was ruled out of the game within minutes. After the game, WFAN radio in New York was reporting that Brees will have to undergo surgery to repair the injury and also may have torn the labrum in his shoulder. If that is the case, then any trade talks involving Philip Rivers would have to be put on hold, as Breesí status for the beginning of the 2006 season would be in question.
As for the game, Brees didnít do much during the brief time he was in the game. His favorite targets in the early going were the standards: McCardell, Gates, Parker, and then Tomlinson in that order. He was bailed out on a possible interception run back for a touchdown when Broncosí LB Ian Gold dropped a sure pick that could have gone the other way for six.
For most fantasy owners it was too little, too late. But for some whose seasons are still yet to be determined, owners had to be pleased seeing Tomlinson approach 100 yards and a score. It was announced after the game that heís been playing with fractured rib cage, but he said that this game was the first time since the injury that it hasnít really bothered him. Even with the positive results, it wasnít the Tomlinson weíre used to seeing. He was stuffed on a fourth and one carry early on but was bailed out by defensive holding. As the game wore on, he displayed several disturbing trends as well, specifically: a tendency to not try and break tackles at the line, instead opting to simply fall forwardÖa tendency to step out of bounds at the end of runs, even when there were a good 2-3 yards in front of him there for the taking. Still, his rhythm got better and better as the game wore on, and no one will complain with those final stats. During the course of the game, Tomlinson achieved two team milestones. He became the all-time San Diego leader in yards from scrimmage, and he also broke Chuck Muncieís team record for most total touchdowns in a single season.
Parker entered the game needing just four receptions to trigger an automatic $500,000 bonus in his contract. He was thrown to early and often, and reached the total with plenty of time to spare in the second quarter. Whatís more, he made the receptions in the course of the game and didnít go out of his way to simply meet the number.
McCardell was the most heavily targeted Chargers receiver in the first half with Brees under center. Once Rivers came on, McCardell had a lot of trouble doing much of anything. He caught the first ball Rivers threw to him, but most of the other four incompletions came because the young QB threw over, under, behind, and beside his receivers Ė specifically McCardell.
Gates was heavily involved from a target standpoint, though most of the passes his way were completely uncatchable. Not to mention two of his targets were thrown so poorly that the big TE had to play defender to simply knock them away and avoid interceptions. He did have his moments, however. On one reception, Gates demonstrated his terrific balance and moves when he danced through several defenders on his way to a first down. Gates missed out on a sure touchdown down the seam when a Drew Brees pass intended for him was broken up at the last second and deflected by LB D.J. Williams.
As has been the case for much of the year, HC Marty Schottenheimer bypassed opportunities to kick 50+ yard field goals, instead opting to go for it on fourth down on two separate occasions. As it turned out, those were the only possible chances Kaeding would have to kick any field goals, and his line contribution was a single extra point.
Donít let the three touchdowns fool you. The Chargers bottled up Tatum Bell for most of the game, as evidenced by his paltry 3.0 YPC average (and thatís with a 19 yard touchdown run). Bell had no running room for most of the afternoon, and considering he has torn up most teams to the tune of six yards per carry, it was a solid effort by the San Diego defenders on him. Bellís second touchdown in particular wasnít really a fault of the defense, as Denver took over the ball at the San Diego one yard line following a Brees fumble, and scored on the ensuing play. About the only time the Chargers really looked bad on Bell was on his final touchdown run, a 19 yard scamper up the but on which the Chargers appeared content to simply get a hand on him as he flew by on his way to the end zone. Curiously, San Diego had a bit more trouble containing Ron Dayne and QB Bradlee Van Pelt. Dayne in particular looked impressive, which is odd considering the big bruising back is precisely the kind that has had little success thus far against San Diego. Van Pelt ran on the Chargers ten times, yet it almost always seemed as if they were caught by surprise when he took off. They rarely kept extra defenders up at the line to contain him, and it resulted in 41 rushing yards for the young QB.
Considering Jake Plummer played only one half and Bradlee Van Pelt barely threw the ball whatsoever, it should come as no surprise that the San Diego pass defense held the Broncos to under 100 yards through the air. Curiously, Denver was able to extend its lead in the second half even while Van Pelt was going 2-8 for seven yards. The Chargers got intense pressure on Plummer, which may have helped contribute to his early exit from the game. He was getting banged around quite a bit, despite a concerted effort to throw a lot of quick strike passes to avoid getting hit. San Diego rookie DL Luis Castillo suffered a sprained PCL (knee) during the game, but HC Marty Schottenheimer was vague about the severity of the injury during postgame interviews. It was reported that Castillo was seen walking without help out of the locker room after the game. LB Shawne Merriman, a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year, lost out on an opportunity to add a pick to his resume when he was unable to come up with a pass at the hands of Van Pelt. San Diego blew an earlier opportunity when S Clinton Hart failed to come up with an interception on a very catchable ball.