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Chargers stun Broncos 27-20, open up AFC race

DENVER -- The Denver Broncos' seemingly easy road to the AFC West title and top seeding in the American Conference took an unexpected jolt on Thursday with a 27-20 home loss to the San Diego Chargers.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw two touchdown passes to Keenan Allen and kept the Chargers' offense on the field for nearly 39 minutes to produce a surprising result.

Denver is now 11-3; the same number of losses as American Conference rivals New England and Kansas City. Denver owns the tiebreaker against the latter but not the former.

The Broncos' next two games are against strugglers Houston and Oakland so they still stand a strong chance of securing the top seeding, but Thursday's home loss against a mediocre team means anything now seems possible.

Disorganized on defense and never able to crank things up on offense, the Broncos gained only 13 yards on the 13 plays after taking a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter. That covered four fruitless drives during which they picked up just one first down.

β€œThe longer you keep the ball and the less he has it, the better off you're going to be,” said Chargers coach Mike McCoy in reference to Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

Rivers finished 12 for 20 on passing for 166 yards while Chargers running back Ryan Matthews matched his season high with 127 yards on 29 carries.

After Denver's long dry spell on offense, San Diego had taken a 24-10 lead, and though the Broncos (11-3) had overcome double-digit deficits four times this season to win, it didn't happen this time.

They got back within seven points and Manning had the ball on the Denver 3-yard line with 5:50 left. He moved the Broncos 30 yards in two plays with the help of a penalty. But the Chargers' maligned defense produced some pass rush and forced a bad throw, which linebacker Thomas Keiser picked off at the Denver 33.

The Chargers (7-7) got a field goal to go up by 10. Denver answered with a field goal but couldn't recover the onside kick and the Broncos lost to an AFC West foe for the first time in 11 games.

Manning's final numbers seemed decent β€” 27 for 41 for 289 yards and two touchdowns β€” but padded during desperation time.

It was Denver's first regular-season defeat at home in 14 games, dating to last September against Houston.

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Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers scrambles against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado on Thursday, Dec. 12. (AFP)

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