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Broncos coast to win behind Demaryius Thomas' 3 TDs

Coming out of the bye week, the Denver Broncos played their most complete game since September, coasting to a 28-20 road victory over the San Diego Chargers.

The defense sacked Philip Rivers four times, holding him to nearly 100 yards and one touchdown pass below his season averages.

It's the offense, though, that continues to carry the load with a record-setting pace. Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas connected on three touchdowns in the game's first 35 minutes and sealed the victory with a trio of first-down catches in the fourth quarter.

Thomas, the NFL's bubble-screen master, reclaimed the league's yards-after-catch lead from Pierre Garcon while becoming the first Broncos player since Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe a decade ago to record three receiving scores in a game.

Manning now is on pace for an eye-popping 5,776 yards and 59 touchdown passes while spreading the wealth in a pick-your-poison aerial attack. Just five NFL players have at least nine receiving touchdowns this season: Jimmy Graham, Calvin Johnson and a trio of Manning's targets (Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas).

Denver's defense is improving and the offense once again is clicking on all cylinders in advance of next week's AFC West showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Here's what else we learned in Sunday's game:

1. Rivers had one of his least productive games of the season but still generated a 99.5 passer rating while checking to the run at the appropriate times. He's managing the game, seeing the field and using touch passes as well as any quarterback save Manning.

2. Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead have excelled in their respective roles this season, but the Chargers have a miniature version of the Saints' situational play-calling conundrum on their hands. Because Mathews is limited primarily to obvious running downs, it's a "tell" when he's in the game. We suspect that's why the coaches have been hesitant to call his number on key goal-line plays. He finally ended a year-long home rushing touchdown drought with a third-down dive over the pile to pull the Chargers to within one score early in the fourth quarter. He also lost a 39-yard run to a holding penalty.

3. We would like to see the Chargers use more two-tight end sets to take advantage of Ladarius Green's downfield playmaking ability. Of his seven receptions, four have gone for at least 24 yards.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Denver Broncos' 28-20 win over the San Diego Chargers from Week 10 on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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4. Julius Thomas' previously sprained ankle was not a problem on a 74-yard touchdown catch in which he outraced Chargers defenders down the sideline for more than 50 yards.

5. Mannning has taken too many hits the past few games. Fill-in left tackle Chris Clark has allowed three strip-sacks since Ryan Clady's season-ending injury. Manning also took a hard shot to his lower legs that gave the Broncos a scare late in the game. He didn't miss a play, but said he was "pretty sore" after the game. Manning will be sent for an MRI on Monday, but it will be a major upset if he's not under center with first place on the line next week.

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