Denver’s Peyton Manning sparked a historic second-half comeback from 24 points down on Monday with three touchdown passes to lead the Broncos over San Diego 35-24.
Manning completed 24-of-30 passes for 309 yards, going 13-of-14 in the second half, to inspire his 47th fourth-quarter victory fightback — matching retired Miami legend Dan Marino for the NFL record in career victory rallies.
“I don’t have them ranked, but it sure is special,” Manning said. “It was a pivotal game. We can work on doing some things better and get things turned around.”
The Broncos improved to 3-3, matching San Diego at the top of the AFC West Division, while the Chargers dropped their third game in their past four starts and did so at home by squandering a 24-0 lead.
“Every loss hurts, no matter how it happens ... especially when you have a big lead and with so much at stake,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We’re 3-3 and we have to regroup.”
It was the first time in NFL history that a team who trailed by 24 points eventually won by 10 or more points.
“It’s about playing 60 minutes,” Manning said. “There’s no quit in this team. We have some things to work on, but this is a great win.”
It showed why the Broncos signed Manning, 36, after he was released by the Indianapolis Colts in March.
“He’s calm. He’s confident. He’s a leader. He’s what you need to pick it up,” Broncos receiver Eric Decker said of Manning. “We were making little mistakes that were killing us. In crunch time you have to make those plays and we did. That’s the kind of leadership he has.”
Manning, who completed 13 passes in a row at one stage in the second half, was aided by six San Diego turnovers, five of them in the second half.
“Our offense got a touchdown and our defense was able to force some turnovers,” Manning said. “We have shown the ability to come back.”
Rivers threw an 11-yard scoring strike to Antonio Gates with 24 seconds remaining in the second quarter to give the Chargers a 24-0 halftime lead, matching the largest halftime deficit Manning had ever faced.
“Those self-inflicted wounds put us in a hole,” Manning said. “It was kind of deflating to our team in the first half. Everybody stepped up in the second half. Everybody took responsibility.”
Manning connected with Demaryius Thomas on a 29-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter and Tony Carter returned a fumble recovery off a sack of Rivers 65 yards for a touchdown, pulling the Broncos within 24-14.
“We kind of unraveled after that,” Rivers said.
Manning added a seven-yard touchdown pass to Decker just 87 seconds into the fourth quarter to pull Denver within 24-21.
“We beat ourselves up in the second half,” Decker said. “We’re a resilient team. We fought back in the fourth quarter. We just have to do that from the start.”
After scoring his first NFL touchdown, Carter picked off a Rivers pass for his first NFL interception to give Denver the ball back and Manning made the most of his chance by marching the Broncos into the end zone.
“It was mainly poor throws,” Rivers said. “I wasn’t fooled once out there.”
Manning threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley with 9 minutes, 3 seconds to play to put Denver ahead for the first time at 28-24.
“Any time you get one-on-one coverage with him you have to go for it,” Manning said. “He ran a little fade route and that was huge for us. It was nice our defense could play with a lead. They could peel their ears back and go for it.”
Rivers tried to guide San Diego back for a go-ahead touchdown, but he threw an interception to Denver’s Chris Harris and the Broncos’ defender raced 46 yards for a final touchdown with 2:05 remaining.
The Broncos have outscored all foes combined in the fourth quarter by 79-6 this season.
“We know we have to buckle down and make plays,” Decker said.
San Diego’s Quentin Jammer intercepted a Manning pass and returned 80 yards for a touchdown to give the Chargers a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. It was the first pickoff surrendered by Manning in more than 16 quarters of play.
Two other Denver turnovers set up first-quarter San Diego points, Nick Novak’s 32-yard field goal and a 15-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Gates.