DENVER — Peyton Manning sat and waited on the sideline as San Diego kept moving the chains and churning the clock.
The Chargers’ slim playoff hopes don’t look so slim anymore.
Ryan Mathews ran for 127 yards and a touchdown and Philip Rivers tossed a pair of scores to Keenan Allen as the Chargers shocked the Denver Broncos 27-20 on Thursday night.
The Chargers, who snapped Denver’s 10-game AFC West winning steak, held the ball for nearly 39 minutes and converted 6-of-12 third downs.
“Time of possession is only important if you’re scoring,” Rivers said.
Denver tallied 127 yards on its first two drives of the game, but totaled just 168 yards the rest of the way. The Broncos’ 295 total yards and 20 points were a season low.
“The longer you keep the ball and the less he (Manning) has it, the better off you’re going to be,” Chargers head coach and former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said.
Rivers was 12-of-20 for 166 yards for San Diego (7-7), which moved a half game behind the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins for the AFC’s second wild-card spot.
Manning flipped a 5-yard TD pass to Andre Caldwell with 10:25 remaining to pull the Broncos within 24-17 and Denver got the ball back at its own 3 with 5:50 to go following a San Diego punt.
Manning, though, was intercepted on the third play of the drive by linebacker Thomas Keiser to all but seal the outcome. Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget fought through a double team and hit Manning as he threw and Keiser notched the easy pick.
Nick Novak’s 35-yard field goal after the misue gave the Chargers a 27-17 lead with 2:36 left.
Matt Prater nailed a 42-yard field goal with 34 ticks on the clock to whittle the deficit to 27-20, but the ensuing onside kick went out of bounds.
Manning completed 27-of-41 passes for 289 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Broncos (11-3), who are tied with the Kansas City Chiefs in the loss column atop the AFC West. Denver holds the tiebreaker because they beat the Chiefs twice. Kansas City is in Oakland to clash with the Raiders on Sunday.
Denver is also tied with the New England Patriots in the loss column for the top seed in the AFC. The Patriots hold the tiebreaker there due to their win over the Broncos earlier this season in Foxboro. New England travels to Miami Sunday to play the Dolphins.
Caldwell, filling in for a concussed Wes Welker, caught six passes for 59 yards and two scores in defeat.
“I’d say we didn’t have our best stuff tonight,” Denver head coach John Fox said. “They obviously did a better job getting ready on the short week than we did.”
Prater’s 32-yard field goal gave Denver a 10-3 advantage late in the opening frame, but the Chargers ripped off 21 successive points to surge ahead as the Broncos’ offense registered three straight three-and-outs in between the second and third stanzas.