Remember the Chargers.
Kickoff in the Broncos' AFC Divisional round game this weekend comes exactly a year after Jacoby Jones' 70-yard last-gasp touchdown catch sparked Baltimore's upset of Denver in double-overtime.
But the Broncos don't have to go all the way back to their playoff pratfall against Baltimore for inspiration when they host San Diego on Sunday.
The Broncos, again the AFC's top seed after another 13-3 regular season, can draw plenty of motivation from their latest slip-up just a month ago, when the Chargers (10-7) handed them their only home loss of the season, 27-20.
"We beat the Ravens in the opener, so we checked that one off our list already," defensive end Malik Jackson said Monday. "Now, we need to check the Chargers off our list."
The Broncos were held to their lowest output of their record-breaking season by the Chargers on Dec. 12, when Peyton Manning spent most of his night stewing on the sideline.
Manning had complained about the short week of preparation leading up to that game and some of his teammates acknowledged afterward that they had their minds more on the long weekend of R&R that followed that final Thursday night game of the year than on fending off a good team scrapping for a playoff berth.
The Broncos have the bye-week advantage this time while the Chargers had to play over the wild-card weekend, upsetting Cincinnati on the road 27-10 Sunday to earn a return ticket to Denver.
"That rest, it really helped a lot," Jackson said. "Sitting there and watching these teams play really made you realize that you don't want to be there the next few weeks sitting there watching other teams play. So, it let us rejuvenate our bodies and our minds and now we're ready to go out there and start this new season."
These two original AFL franchises have met 108 times, but never in the playoffs.
The Chargers, coached by Mike McCoy, the Broncos' former offensive coordinator, gave Denver fits this season. They held the Broncos to an average of 24 points in their two AFC West matchups, almost two touchdowns below their 37.9 average, which was the highest of any team in the Super Bowl era.
Denver won at San Diego in November by eight points when Demaryius Thomas scored three TDs, but the Broncos were without slot receiver Wes Welker for the rematch and sorely missed him on third down. Welker is back from a concussion that kept him out for the final 3 1/2 games.
In San Diego's win at Denver, the Chargers played keep-away from Manning, controlling the clock for 38 minutes. Ryan Mathews (127 yards on 29 carries) became the only running back to top 100 yards against Denver all season, and the Chargers gained 103 yards on first down.
Mathews has been bothered by a sore ankle and had just one carry after halftime against the Bengals. The Broncos also shored up their run defense after losing to the Chargers by signing Jeremy Mincey, who was released by Jacksonville. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, Denver's first-round draft pick, has also picked up his play.
For the Chargers to stay close to the Broncos' record-setting offense led by Manning, who set NFL records with 55 TD passes and 5,447 yards through the air, they will need their own quarterback, Philip Rivers, to make lots of big plays.
He has certainly done that over the years in Denver, where he's 6-2 in his career. He'd be 7-1, too, if not for Ed Hochuli's blown call on Jay Cutler's last-minute fumble in 2008.
"Yeah?" Jackson retorted. "(Stuff) don't matter now. We're about to get a ninth game. We'll see what he is after this game."
Even though the Broncos say they needn't look back at last year's playoff flop any longer, they also can't forget how they failed to parlay a stellar regular season into a great playoff run.
"You don't harp on the first time you fell off your bike, but you remember falling off and you know you don't want to do it again," tight end Julius Thomas said. "So, it's not that we're dwelling on the Ravens or even if it's about the Ravens. It could have been any team that we lost to. But we do have a fresh reminder of if you don't come out and play your 'A' game in this tournament, you're going to lose."
Notes: DE Shaun Phillips was sent home sick Monday. ... It looks increasingly unlikely DE Derek Wolfe will play in the postseason. He has only practiced twice—on Dec. 25 and 27—since suffering seizure-like symptoms on the team bus Nov. 29.
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