Rick Jussel Column December 28, 2009

With hot QB, Chargers will end Broncos’ season with a loss

It all comes down to this … fittingly.

One game, two teams, one AFC West title at stake, one NFL playoff berth.

For the Denver Broncos, it’s a plane ride to San Diego and a date with a team that the
Broncos beat the second week of the season, 39-38, thanks to a now-legendary blown call by an official.

The Chargers have had all season to seethe.

The Broncos have had all season to clinch the AFC West and earn the playoff spot.

Only two scant weeks ago, the Broncos were three games up on the Chargers with three games to play. Did I mention that no team has ever — in the entire history of a league that dates back to George Halas’ playing days — lost a playoff spot when they have been three games up with three games to play?

The Broncos, for a number of reasons, are about to make history.

If I were a Bronco getting ready to make this trip, I would have done a couple of things: I would have acquired a one-way ticket from the chill of Colorado to the now-sunny Southern California shores, and I would have stowed away my golf clubs. Might as well make the trip worthwhile.

Denver has a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning this game.

Consider:

The Broncos, an 8-7 team on the year, have lost to Kansas City, Jacksonville, the Raiders and the Bills this season, four teams that have a combined record of 18-42. They have also lost to New England, Miami and Carolina by a combined score of 97-34.

True, Mike Shanahan’s team does have some good wins, unexpected in some cases, miraculous in others.

There was, of course, the miracle win over the Chargers, followed by a similar piece of hocus-pocus over the Saints — both of those coming at new Mile High. They also romped past a then-very-good Jets team in New York, beat the Falcons in Atlanta — a very rare occurrence this season — and beat a playoff-contending Tampa Bay team in Denver. The
Broncos also beat the Browns on a difficult Thursday night encounter in Cleveland. Good wins all, as were ho-hummers over the Raiders and Chiefs that fill out the Bronco dance card to this point.

One might say some of those victories would give the Broncos hope.

And one might say spring is just around the corner.

Here’s the problem Denver faces:

The Chargers have a decent offense, one that is more consistent than Denver’s rather explosive, yet suddenly stained Jay Cutler-led unit. Although Cutler has thrown for 4,200-plus yards on the season and is headed for the Pro Bowl, in the past two games he has thrown for only one touchdown, two interceptions and has overthrown a half-dozen wide receivers for potential touchdowns.

Philip Rivers of San Diego, on the other hand, has thrown for six touchdowns and more than 600 yards and has only one interception in the past two games that the Chargers absolutely had to win. On the season he has thrown 32 touchdown passes compared to only 11 interceptions (Cutler has 24 TDs and 16 interceptions).

Rivers, in short, is hot right now. Cutler has spent too much time of late yelling at coaches, officials and teammates.

The edge tonight goes to Rivers. And it’s really the only place the matchup is close.

Tell me, who would you rather have running for you, LaDainian Tomlison and Darren Sproles, or Tatum Bell and another body brought up off the practice squad?

Which defensive unit would you rather have playing for you, Denver’s or any team in the league including San Diego (with the possible exception of Detroit)?

And then there’s the kicking game. Denver has been is losing field position by the minute over the last month. The kickoff teams can’t cover or tackle anyone much short of midfield and the kick return teams have consisted of Selvin Young stumbling his way out to about the 25. One team starts at midfield, the other team starts only a quarter of the way up the field.

Those are the facts that have taken 16 weeks to accumulate. They do not bode well for Denver.

I’ll take my 5-7 record picking with or against Denver (a 9-point underdog; I’m 6-5-1 against the spread) and say the Broncos can start rebuilding their defense Monday. San Diego wins tonight in a romp, 38-21.

It will be a sad and logical ending to a season that has consistently defied logic.


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