Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
SAN DIEGO -- Kyle Orton walked into the small but satisfied visitor’s locker room at Qualcomm Stadium following his press conference to talk about Denver’s 34-23 statement game against the San Diego Chargers and said “6-0, baby, 6-0,” to no one in particular.
The Broncos are unbeaten and unabashed. They’ve taken the NFL by storm and they are making sure everyone knows about it.
The Broncos gave the Chargers the Muhammad Ali treatment. They punched the Chargers out and then they told them about it. Again in true Ali form, the talking started before the beatdowns.
“There’s a new persona about this team,” said four-year Denver veteran tight end Tony Scheffler, who had to be held back from San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips in the waning seconds of the game. “We feel good about ourselves and we’re going to have fun out there. We aren’t going to be pushed around.”
Denver let that be known when nearly the entire team huddled near the Chargers during pregame warm-ups. A large scrum formed with some pushing and shoving. Officials had to break it up.
Think Miami-Florida State in the golden era of that rivalry.
After the game, the victorious Broncos, who pulled a similar stunt at Oakland in Week 3, were laughing about the dust-up. The Chargers were not.
“That was disrespectful,” said San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was pushing back players from both teams in the middle of the melee. “But we get to see them again. They didn’t have a cakewalk here … We’ll see them again.”
When the Chargers visit Denver in November, they must do a better job in the second half. Denver is undefeated on the strength of its incredible play after halftime.
The Chargers led 20-17 after a wild first half. But Denver outscored San Diego 17-3 the rest of the way and sealed the victory with its usual array of timely plays on both sides of the ball.
Denver has outscored opponents 76-10 in the second half this season.
“The coaches see what we don’t do right in the first half and we fix it in the second half,” Denver defensive tackle Ronald Fields said. “If that continues, we are going to be very hard to beat.”
Nearly every win by Denver this season has been spawned by a huge play in the second half. Monday night, it was a sack by linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who leads the NFL with 10 sacks. The Broncos recovered a Philip Rivers' fumble on the play and turned it into a field goal and a four-point lead. Denver added a touchdown later in the quarter after another huge defensive stop. One of four unbeaten teams, Denver has allowed an NFL-low 66 points. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Rivers was sacked four times on blitzes.
“We pride ourselves in making the big play when it counts,” Denver receiver Brandon Stokley said. “Good teams know how to do that.”
Some other keys to the game:
Chargers get the Royal treatment: Although Denver turned the game around in the second half, the team benefited greatly by two first-half returns for touchdowns by receiver Eddie Royal.
He had a 93-yard kickoff return for a score in the first quarter and a 71-yard punt return for a score in the second quarter. He is the sixth player since the merger in 1970 to have a kickoff and punt return for a score in the same game. He was the first Denver player to do it. For good measure, San Diego return ace Darren Sproles added a 77-yard punt return for a score. It was the first time since 1998 that there were three returns for touchdowns in a game.
“I’m just glad I could help,” Royal said. “The plays just opened up for us.”
Merriman said the two Royal returns were devastating for San Diego.
“We can’t have that,” Merriman said. “You can’t have two returns for scores. It would have been a totally different game if that didn’t happen.”
Orton keeps on keeping on: Like the Denver defense, folks are waiting for Orton to crack. But like his defense, Orton is playing near-perfect football, especially when the game counts.
Orton was 11-of-15 for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the second half Monday night. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, his passer’s rating in the half was 143.3. He was brilliant in the second half and in overtime against New England in Week 5. Orton was 8-0f-12 on third down, compared to 3-of-7 for Rivers.
Orton, acquired in the Jay Cutler trade, is clearly thriving in Josh McDaniels’ system. He is both managing the game well and making clutch plays. So, the Orton-for-MVP talk is going to continue, at least for another week.
The Chargers aren’t dead yet, but they may be close: Although the focus is on Denver’s huge start, the Chargers’ third straight lousy start cannot be overlooked.
San Diego started 5-5 in 2007 and 4-8 last season before rallying to win the division both years. The Chargers aren’t panicking, but they are not pleased that they must try to come back from behind again.
“I’m sick of it,” Merriman said.
Still, the Chargers don’t have a brutal remaining schedule. Their next two games are at Kansas City and at home against Oakland.
The Chargers know they can turn their season around, but they have to play better, especially on defense. The Chargers couldn’t get off the field Monday night and they had very little pass rush.
“We've got to get better on defense,” Merriman said. “We have to get off the field. It starts there.”
If the Chargers don’t improve, don’t expect the boisterous Broncos to stop yapping.