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December 13. 2013 12:29AM

Chargers edge Manning, Broncos, 27-20


Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) reacts during the second half of Thursday's game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. (Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)
DENVER -- Ryan Mathews rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown and Thomas Keiser came up with a key fourth-quarter interception as San Diego bolstered its playoff chances by handing Denver its first home loss of the season, 27-20, on Thursday night.

Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen hooked up for a pair of touchdowns for the Chargers (7-7), who moved one-half game behind Miami and Baltimore in the race for the final AFC playoff spot.

San Diego's defense was tremendous, holding the Broncos to season lows in total yards (307) and points. Peyton Manning finished 27-of-41 for 289 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Broncos (11-3), whose AFC West lead over Kansas City is down to one-half game - though they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chiefs.

Andre Caldwell caught six passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns for Denver, which managed only 18 rushing yards on 11 attempts.

Denver's offensive juggernaut started out hot, as usual, as Manning and Caldwell hooked up for a 15-yard TD on the opening series and Matt Prater booted a 32-yard field goal on the Broncos' next possession for a 10-3 lead.

The Chargers' defense stiffened and forced four straight punts while their ground game shredded Denver's defense, and Allen made impressive plays on touchdown grabs of 19 and 10 yards for a 17-10 halftime lead.

Mathews bounced outside and sprinted up the left sideline for a 23-yard score on the opening series of the second half to make it 24-10, but the Chargers couldn't sustain another drive to put it away.

Manning led the Broncos on a 12-play, 89-yard drive and hit Caldwell for a 5-yard TD to cut into the lead and Denver had the ball back with a chance to tie, but Corey Liuget hit Manning on his follow-through of a first-down pass and the ball fluttered to Keiser, setting up Nick Novak's 35-yard field goal to make it a two-score cushion with 2:36 left.

GAME NOTEBOOK: Denver was without WR Wes Welker (concussion). ... Manning's fourth-quarter interception was his first in 121 pass attempts. ... Mathews topped 100 yards rushing for the second straight game and fifth time this season.

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