By Dave Thomas

The San Diego Chargers started  the day as one of the two AFC wild card teams. When the afternoon ended, the Bolts were sitting out of the playoffs looking in with the eighth seed, this after a disheartening 22-10 loss at home to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

Denver, meantime, captured back-to-back AFC West crowns with the win, keeping pace with the victorious New England Patriots for the best overall conference mark at 11-3 (New England owns the tiebreaker).

With back-to-back losses to the two top teams in the conference, the Chargers (8-6) now are essentially in must-win mode over the final two weekends of the season, with even that not guaranteeing San Diego a playoff spot when all is said and done. San Diego finishes the regular season with visits to San Francisco (Dec. 20) and Kansas City (Dec. 28). That season finale at Arrowhead Stadium could be with a playoff berth on the line.

Where Did The Offense Go?

After piling up 34 points in a big road win two weekends ago in Baltimore, the Chargers have been rather bottled up the last two games, scoring 14 points in the loss to the Patriots and only 10 this time around.

Going into Sunday’s game with the Broncos, the Chargers were dealt a blow before the first play even took place, with starting running back Ryan Mathews out with an ankle injury. 

The running game once again turned to rookie Branden Oliver, but San Diego ultimately had to rely on quarterback Philip Rivers to move the ball.

Rivers, who gives you 110 percent each and every game, was far from his best on this late fall afternoon, hoisting a pair of interceptions. His second put the game away for Denver when Rahim Moore picked him off on an attempted pass to tight end Antonio Gates in the end zone in the game’s waning moments.

Now having to win a pair of road games and needing some assistance along the way, the Chargers will need a running game, a passing game, a good effort from special teams, not to mention a little luck along the way.

TEAM GRADES:

OFFENSE (C-) – When you have little or no running game, you’re already starting in a hole. San Diego managed all of 56 yards net rushing on the day, albeit against the second best defense against the run in the league. Rivers, who did connect on one TD pass with Gates in the fourth quarter, finished his day 24-of-41 for 232 yards. On the bright side, Rivers was not sacked on the day unlike recent weeks. Second-year wide receiver Keenan Allen went out with an ankle injury in the second half and did not return, taking away one of Rivers’ top weapons. Gates finished with six catches for 54 yards.

DEFENSE (B-) – Going against Peyton Manning is difficult for just about any team in the NFL. That said, San Diego actually did an admirable job against the future Hall-of-Famer. Manning, who went out temporarily in the second quarter with a thigh injury, finished his afternoon 14-of-20 for 233 yards and one TD. Along the way, Manning extended his own NFL record to 14 seasons with 4,000 yards passing. Denver featured C.J. Anderson for much of the day, with the running back finishing with 85 yards on 29 carries. San Diego’s defense twice stopped Denver on the one yard line in the first half, thereby keeping the Chargers in the game. Eric Weddle and Jahleel Addae each recorded seven solo tackles, with Brandon Flowers notching six. With San Diego’s ground game struggling to say the least, San Diego’s ‘D’ will have to turn it up again in games with San Francisco and Kansas City to give the Bolts any shot of a playoff spot. 

For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.

Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.