A disappointing season for the Chargers came to a close Sunday on a high note, as the team prevailed over Denver, 33-28, at Invesco Field. Rookie back Ryan Mathews ran for a career-best 120 yards on 26 carries with three touchdowns in the win.
“I finished strong and that’s what I wanted to do,” Mathews said. “I wanted to get 20-plus carries and, of course, Norv (Turner) gave me the rock today. I couldn’t have done it without the lineman today…I’m just really thankful to have those big guys out there.”
Philip Rivers threw for 313 yards on 21-of-37 efficiency for the Chargers (9-7), who are coming off a tough loss, 34-20 to Cincinnati last week which eliminated them from the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
“It’s a letdown,” center Nick Hardwick said as he left the locker room. “You get in here, that’s when you can let down your guard. It hurt.”
Tim Tebow threw for 205 yards for two touchdowns and ran for a score, but he was also picked off twice as Denver (4-12) finished the season losing six of its final seven games.
Pro-Bowler Brandon Lloyd caught five pass for 73 yards and a touchdown, while Eric Decker grabbed the other touchdown pass. Tebow had a rough start of the game by throwing an interception to Eric Weddle during Denver’s second possession of the game.
The turnover was squandered by the Chargers when Rivers threw a pick of his own to Renaldo Hill, who ran for 31 yards into enemy territory. The rookie QB bounced back from his earlier turnover by capping off a short 40-yard drive with a 14-yard toss to a wide open Lloyd that posted the first score of the game with 2:57 left to play in the opening quarter.
The game was tied on the next touch after Mathews’ cutback led to a 27-yard touchdown scamper just three plays into the second stanza.
San Diego then took the lead on their next possession thanks to a Nate Kaeding 42-yard field goal with 10 minutes left. He added a 45-yarder more than six minutes later and a 47-yarder with nine seconds remaining in the half for a 16-7 margin heading into the break.
Tebow heaved his second pick of the game three plays into the second half to Quentin Jammer, who returned it five yards to his own 29.
The Chargers found the end zone this time when Mathews ran up the middle, cut it outside and dove into the end zone for a 12-yard run just under five minutes into the third.
The Broncos were forced to punt on their next touch, which was returned by Antoine Cason for 62 yards to the 19. Four plays later, Kaeding booted his fourth field goal of the game, making it 26-7.
Decker caught a six-yard pass in the back of the end zone from Tebow to end Denver’s next drive and make it a 26-14 contest with 3:15 left in the third stanza. Tebow highlighted the march with a a 30-yard scramble and then back- to-back runs totaling 19 yards.
Mathews tallied his third touchdown on the third drive of the fourth quarter. He took a pitch on a 4th-and-1 play where he outran the defense around the edge and raced 31 yards to paydirt.
The Broncos negated the score on the ensuing kick off when Cassius Vaughn rumbled 97 yards to make the score 33-21. Tebow added a six-yard TD run with 26 ticks left to play to make it a one-score game.
Despite Denver’s recovery of the ensuing onside kick, the Chargers knocked down two Hail Mary jump balls to end the game.
“I was just trying to keep fighting to make plays,” Tebow said. “We got a lot of fight in us and we kept fighting until the end. You never know what’s going to happen. Last week we were able to come back and today we were one throw away.”