Peyton Manning, Broncos pay visit to San Diego
Save for one shaky performance, Peyton Manning has done most everything the Denver Broncos expected when they signed him to a lucrative deal in the off-season.
He can't do much if Denver can't hang onto the football, though.
Manning hopes his rough recent history versus the host San Diego Chargers doesn't play a role when the turnover-prone Broncos look to even the division race in Monday night's showdown between AFC West rivals.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback is having another solid season after missing 2011 following a series of neck surgeries, ranking fourth in the NFL with a 101.2 passer rating.
Manning threw three interceptions in a 27-21 loss to Atlanta on Sept. 17, but he's completed 64.9 per cent of his passes for 1,013 yards, eight touchdowns and no picks over his last three games.
He finished 31 of 44 for 345 yards and three TDs in last Sunday's 31-21 loss to New England, but the Broncos committed three turnovers, including Manning's fumble in the third quarter.
"There are a lot of what-ifs," Manning said. "The key is that we learn from them and, hopefully, we can respond next week with the win."
Denver (2-3), which has lost three of four after a season-opening win over Pittsburgh, is tied for 28th with a minus-6 turnover differential and the defence played over 35 minutes last weekend.
"The problem has been getting the ball back to our offense," Broncos head coach John Fox said. "We have to do a better job.
"It's something I can promise you will get better and it will get addressed. In time, hopefully, we get it."
Demaryius Thomas caught nine passes for a career-high 180 yards, but he lost a fumble for a third straight game.
"We have guys that won't quit," Thomas said. "I feel like that can build a great team.
"It just has to start clicking. And early, take care of the ball and put points on the board."
Manning, though, hasn't been very good against San Diego (3-2) in recent years. He's lost five of his last six starts including the post-season, throwing 11 TD passes and 15 interceptions. Manning threw a career-most six INTs versus the Chargers on Nov. 11, 2007, and four the last time he faced them in a 36-14 defeat Nov. 28, 2010.
Denver ended a four-game losing streak to San Diego with a 16-13 overtime win Nov. 27.
"Obviously, division opponents are very critical," Fox said. "We'll remain focused.
"Our guys will remain positive, despite all the noise on the outside. We have another opportunity is all I can say against a division team."
Phillip Rivers is 9-3 in his starts against the Broncos, completing 64.4 per cent of his passes and throwing 20 TDs — his most versus any team.
Rivers finished 27 of 42 for 354 yards and two TDs last Sunday, but it wasn't enough to help avoid a 31-24 loss to previously winless New Orleans after the Chargers held a 10-point lead until late in the third quarter.
"I can't tell you how tough it is to lose a game like this," Rivers said. "We were right there.
"We were up by 10 points and just didn't get it done. We have a great team, a championship-calibre team, but we have to win close games like this."
'A lot of success against Manning'
Though San Diego had trouble containing Drew Brees, Chargers head coach Norv Turner is hoping Monday's home crowd will have an impact after two straight on the road.
"I expect our fans to have a big part in it," he said. "It's part of the reason that we've had a lot of success against Manning.
"They're an off-the-line or a no-huddle team and the crowd can affect that greatly."
The Chargers also hope to get another solid performance from Ryan Mathews, who rushed for 80 yards and a TD while adding 59 yards receiving last week. He's been stellar in each of his three career games versus the Broncos, scoring three times and averaging 127.3 rushing yards.
Denver leading rusher Willis McGahee had similar efforts in the last two meetings, running for 125 yards in a 29-24 home loss Oct. 9, 2011, and 117 in the most recent matchup.
The Chargers, though, have the NFL's fifth-ranked rush defence, allowing an average of 74.0 yards. McGahee is the only opposing back to exceed 100 yards rushing in San Diego's last 12 games.