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NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
A furious rally by the San Diego Chargers ran out of steam in Sunday's 24-17 loss at the Denver Broncos, and with it came the end to a Chargers season that lasted far longer than anyone would have anticipate back in early December.
"We're extremely disappointed. We're hurting," safety Eric Weddle said. "You work every day, every hour every minute for a chance at the ultimate goal -- the Super Bowl. And then to have that goal not attained, it's hard to deal with. It will take a very long time to get over it, if you ever do. The only real chance you do have is to get back in this position and move forward.
"But for this team, to fight down 17-0, it could easily have been a blowout. But we stuck with it, kept believing in each other. It just shows the character of this team, that we're never going to give up. Hopefully, that character, that toughness will stick with us for years to come."
The Chargers beat the Broncos in Denver during the regular season while playing one of their best games of the season. The loss that ended San Diego's season did not feature anywhere close to the same level of execution.
The Chargers had five neutral zone infractions, numerous issues handling the crowd noise and several dropped passes. And nothing was more painful than a blown coverage on a 21-yard completion by Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to tight end Julius Thomas on a third-and-17 play with the Chargers attempting to get the ball back for one final drive.
"We had a miscommunication and it got us," Weddle said. "It was great execution by them and not by us. It cost us the game or the chance to at least tie it up."
Manning converted another third down with a 9-yard completion to Thomas, Moreno then gained 5-yards on a third-and-1 play, and with the Chargers out of timeouts, Manning took a knee at the San Diego 32-yard line to run out the last few seconds and culminate what was a classic four-minute "keep-away" drive.
"It was very frustrating watching it," said Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, who caught a pair of 16-yard touchdown passes from Rivers. "With third-and-17, I was thinking we were definitely going to get the ball back. And we were feeling good on the offensive side, having the momentum. It was just unfortunate we didn't get it."
Rivers finished 18 of 27 for 217 yards passing but was without running back Ryan Mathews in the second half. Mathews started the game despite an ankle injury that forced him to miss practice this week but was unable to finish.
"We got it going pretty good and (the Broncos) knew it," Rivers said. "If we got it one more time, I believe deep down we would've tied that thing up. Those are all a bunch of what ifs."
While disappointed in not keeping the storybook roll going at least one more week, the Chargers still enter the offseason with plenty of momentum moving forward.
"It took us too long to get the ball rolling and start executing. (But) in one season, we've turned around this organization and we're heading in the right direction," said center Nick Hardwick. "There's a lot of pride in this room. There's a lot of tough guys in this room who have fought through a lot of injuries this year and gave until they couldn't give any more."
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Chargers' defense jumped offside five times during the game, drawn into the repeated neutral-zone infractions by Peyton Manning's hard count. The mistakes cost San Diego on a couple of Broncos' scoring drives.
"You'd think after a couple we would learn from it," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. "But that's Peyton being as great as he is, mixing it up, dummying his calls. He kept us off guard throughout the entire game. It was exceptional by him."
--First-year coach Mike McCoy led San Diego to a 5-1 finish in the regular season and a playoff win before their season ended. While expressing disappointment over the postseason loss to the Broncos, he likes the direction the team is heading.
"We came up short," he said. "We've got to win more games and be the last one standing. That's the ultimate goal. ... But I told the players, 'Keep your heads high.' They did a lot of really good things as a football team this year. We got a lot accomplished in a short amount of time."
--The Chargers and Broncos, AFC West divisional rivals, met for the first time in the postseason after playing each other 108 times previously.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Offensively, we found a rhythm. Keenan (Allen) made some tremendous plays. Guys stepped up. Collectively, we were able to get going eventually, but when you play a team like Denver, it's just so hard. We ran out of time to come back." -- Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Ryan Mathews started the game but he wasn't able to finish. Mathews, who missed practice last week because of a lingering ankle injury, rushed for 26 yards on five carries, and he didn't play in the second half.
--LB Manti Te'o did not play in the second half after suffering a concussion making a tackle just before halftime.
--CB Marcus Gilchrest left the game in the second half after colliding helmets with a teammate while making a tackle.
--RG Jeromey Clary was among the team's inactive players after missing practice all week due to a shoulder injury.
The Chargers' other inactives at Denver were: DT Sean Lissemore, QB Brad Sorensen, WR Lavelle Hawkins, S Brandon Taylor, CB Marcus Cromartie and OT Kenny Wiggins.