By Mark Lamport-Stokes
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers continued their mid-season revival with a third successive win as they outclassed the struggling Denver Broncos 35-14 on Monday.
In a game widely billed as a quarterback shootout between two of the league's top passing teams, Rivers outshone Kyle Orton by completing 15 of 24 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns.
Orton was sacked five times by a superb San Diego defense while throwing for 217 yards, one touchdown and one interception at Qualcomm Stadium as the Broncos slipped to 3-7 for the season.
The defending AFC West champion Chargers, hampered for much of their campaign by injuries, special teams mistakes and a rash of turnovers, improved to 5-5.
"This was the most complete game we have played this season," a smiling Rivers told reporters after lifting his league-leading total of passing yards for the season to 3,177.
"It's not as good as we can play but it was the most complete game in all three phases that we've played."
Despite missing All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates for a second successive game because of a toe and foot injury, Rivers matched his own career high with four touchdown passes.
Chargers coach Norv Turner paid tribute to his team's defense where linebacker Shaun Phillips, who sacked Orton twice, was an inspirational figure.
"Defensively we set a tone for the entire game," he said. "I know they (the Broncos) had an opening drive that was very impressive but our guys settled down.
"We played extremely physical, we had great coverage and we played the run. It was a complete defensive effort."
The Broncos made a strong start on a chilly evening, Orton orchestrating a 69-yard opening drive that culminated with a four-yard touchdown through the middle by dynamic running back Knowshon Moreno.
San Diego responded on their second drive of the game, Rivers connecting with wide receiver Malcom Floyd for a six-yard touchdown to cap a 12-play sequence, before they took control.
Fullback Mike Tolbert powered into the end zone from one yard midway through the second quarter and a short pass from Rivers set up wide receiver Patrick Crayton for a 40-yard touchdown to give the Chargers a 21-7 lead at halftime.
With the home crowd thundering its support, the Chargers kept their opponents at bay before Rivers hit fullback Jacob Hester for a three-yard touchdown and a commanding 35-7 cushion early in the fourth quarter.
Although Orton found wide receiver Brandon Lloyd for a 13-yard touchdown to cut the deficit, it was a case of too little too late for the Broncos who were totally outplayed on defense in a match-up between two sub-.500 teams.
"Once they got control of the game, we didn't want to play the game the way we ended up playing it and we certainly played more of the game that way than not tonight."
(Editing by Ossian Shine)