DENVER (AP) — Peyton Manning isn’t the only player the Denver Broncos brought in to make things happen.
Von Miller got the call from Denver, too, and the second-year linebacker is becoming as big of a headache for Broncos opponents as Manning is.
On a day Manning threw three more touchdown passes, Miller added three sacks and two forced fumbles to his tally to make it a miserable afternoon for Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers in a 30-23 win on Sunday.
The Broncos (7-3) stretched their lead in the AFC West to three games, and Rivers was all but conceding the division.
“They’re not losing four of six, I can guarantee you that,” said the quarterback, whose team fell to 4-6.
Not if the Denver defense keeps playing this way.
And especially not if Manning stays on the pace he’s enjoying in his first season in the Mile High City. He won his 148th regular-season game to tie Hall of Famer John Elway for second on the all-time list for starting quarterbacks. He’s 38 behind Brett Favre.
Manning was far from his best, too. The numbers looked decent — 25 of 42 for 270 yards — but he threw an interception that safety Eric Weddle returned for a 23-yard touchdown and was sacked for a safety.
“I guess I have to point out the obvious: That’s a good NFL football team,” Manning said. “We’ll take the win and run with it.”
But they may be running with it without Willis McGahee, who hurt his right knee early in the second quarter when he was tackled by defensive back Quentin Jammer and didn’t return.
“It kind of swelled up so we’re just going to be precautionary,” Broncos coach John Fox explained. “We’ll evaluate him moving forward.”
With McGahee out, running responsibilities fell to Lance Ball and rookie Ronnie Hillman.
Ball’s biggest contribution may have been on a block, when he slid over to pick up a blitzing linebacker to give Manning time to step up in the pocket and hit Eric Decker in stride for a 20-yard touchdown.
Hillman broke off a couple of solid runs, including a 21-yarder in the first quarter.
Still, the offense just wasn’t clicking the same way as it does when McGahee’s lining up in the backfield.
“We hope he’s OK,” Manning said.
Playing way better than ‘OK’ was Miller, who made things quite uncomfortable for Rivers. The speedy linebacker took over the league lead from Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt with his three-sack performance. Miller has seven of his 13 sacks in the last three games.
“He’s just getting started,” said defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who brought down Rivers on the final play of the game. “He’s crazy. Crazy day for him.”
Miller used some nifty moves to get to Rivers over and over and over again.
Then, the real show began as he showed off his choreographed dance steps.
Miller, the second-overall pick out of Texas A&M last season, joined Reggie White, Jevon Kearse and Dwight Freeney as only the fourth player to record 11 or more sacks in his first two seasons.
His role model, though, is the late Derrick Thomas. Miller wears No. 58 as a tribute to the late Chiefs Hall of Famer and can take over a game just like Thomas used to as well.
“To be even in the same breath with that guy is humbling,” Miller said. “It’s about wearing ’58′ and playing in a way he would play.”
Miller was constantly in the Chargers backfield, beating anyone they assigned to stop him. Even when Miller wasn’t getting to Rivers, the quarterback was still hearing his footsteps.
Take this for instance: Late in the fourth quarter, Miller was chipped by tight end Antonio Gates and completely out of the play. Only, he quickly regained his balance enough to disrupt Rivers, who overthrew his target and into the hands of Broncos safety Jim Leonhard.
Such was the day for Rivers.
Such has been the season for the Chargers, whose postseason chances have grown even bleaker.
“We can’t worry about that. We just have to go try and win a game,” said Rivers, who threw two TD passes along and two interceptions. “We have to hang our hat on controlling what we can control.”
The Chargers jumped out to a 7-0 lead when Manning’s pass was batted up in the air and picked off by Weddle, who raced 23 yards for the score. San Diego also intercepted Manning for a score on Oct. 15 as the Chargers raced out to a 24-0 halftime lead.
But Denver scored 35 unanswered points in the second half for a 35-24 win.
This time, there were no big comebacks necessary.
Denver led 30-16 after a field goal by Matt Prater with 4:14 remaining. Danario Alexander hauled in a late 21-yard TD pass but the Chargers couldn’t recover the onside kick.
“We aren’t the type of team that gives up,” receiver Malcom Floyd said. “All we can do is just keep chipping.”
The Broncos feel the same way.
In their eyes, they’ve secured nothing even after winning five straight.
“Having a nice (division) lead, it’s comfortable, but we need to get back at it and get better every week,” Decker said. “We’ve got bigger goals ahead of us.”
NOTES: Broncos special teams stalwart Omar Bolden suffered a concussion in the first quarter and didn’t return. … LB Nate Irving’s block of Mike Scifres’ punt was the first for the Broncos since Oct. 7, 2007, against the Chargers. … Playing in his first game after missing the start of the season due to suspension, Broncos LB D.J. Williams finished with four tackles and one for a loss. “It’s been so long since I’ve been in a live football game, be out there and be able to hit somebody,” he said. … Rex Hadnot replaced LG Tyronne Green (hamstring) in the second quarter and David Molk replaced RG Louis Vasquez, who was shaken up but returned after halftime. … LB Larry English (leg), Jammer (calf) also got hurt.
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