The Chargers got a team effort Sunday, as led by QB Philip Rivers and RB Ryan Mathews, the offense did enough to hold off a rally by Broncos backup Tim Tebow to win in Denver 29-24 to move to 4-1 on the season.
Mathews rushed for a career-high 125 yards, Nick Novak connected on five field goals. The win came with Rivers not having his best day, as he threw an interception that was returned for a score and lost a costly fumble late in the game.
But when it mattered most, Rivers led San Diego down the field for a game-sealing field goal to send the Chargers into the bye week leading the AFC West by a game over the Raiders. It’s their best start under coach Norv Turner, even if it hasn’t always looked pretty.
“There’s no AP votes. There’s no coach’s poll. It’s just win football games,” Rivers said. “It was enough today.”
After a dreadful performance by Kyle Orton in the first half, the Broncos (1-4) went with Tebow under center to provide a spark. Although the former Heisman Trophy winner struggled at first, he caught fire in the fourth quarter and nearly rallied to the Broncos to a win.
Now, there’s a full-fledged QB controversy brewing in the Mile High City heading in the break.
The Chargers desperately need the time off to heal their bumps and bruises. Mike Tolbert left the game with a concussion and Mathews strained his calf in the first half. He later hurt his wrist as well.
But it didn’t seem to slow Mathews, as he only got stronger as the game went along. But on the final drive, it was fullback Jacob Hester getting all the carries.
“Ryan fought all he could,” Rivers said. “I told him, ‘If you can give us 30 more minutes, we’ll give you a week off.’ We found a way.”
Early on, it was the San Diego defense setting the tempo. The Broncos had just five first downs and 109 yards of offense in the opening 30 minutes.
Orton had a forgettable first half, completing 6 of 13 passes for 34 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
As he trudged off the field at halftime, Orton and the Broncos were booed by the home crowd.
It took the former University of Florida star some time to settle into a rhythm. But once he did, the Chargers were chasing him all around the field.
Tebow scored on a 12-yard run as Orton, wearing a baseball cap, applauded from the sideline. Willis McGahee’s 2-point conversion cut San Diego’s lead to 26-18 with 6:35 left.
On the next possession, Robert Ayers sacked and stripped Rivers, with cornerback Andre’ Goodman recovering at the San Diego 41 with just over 4 minutes remaining.
Knowshon Moreno then took a short screen pass from Tebow and raced 28 yards for a score. After a timeout, Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd couldn’t haul in a pass on the 2-point conversion attempt. It was knocked away at the last moment by cornerback Antoine Cason as they both tumbled out of bounds.
Rivers proceeded to drive the Chargers down the field to take time off the clock and set up Novak’s fifth field goal, making it 29-24 with 24 seconds remaining.
On the final drive, Lloyd made an acrobatic catch along the San Diego sideline for 20 yards, and tight end Daniel Fells hauled in another for 31. Tebow sprinted down the field and spiked the ball at the Chargers 29 with a second left.
After another San Diego timeout, Tebow took the snap, scrambled around and then threw into the end zone, but the ball fell to the turf to end the comeback bid.