Coaches and quarterbacks will hog the attention Sunday when Jack Del Rio, Peyton Manning and the rest of the Denver Broncos visit Mike McCoy, Philip Rivers and the rest of the San Diego Chargers.
Del Rio was elevated to interim coach to replace John Fox, who had heart surgery on Monday.
"It is probably impossible to replace Coach Fox's high energy, charisma, personality. That cannot be replaced by one guy and coach Del Rio mentioned that," said Manning, who added that Del Rio has shown why he was a head coach for nearly nine seasons with Jacksonville.
McCoy, who called plays for Manning last year, was hired as the Chargers' coach after Norv Turner was fired.
"I think that I know the system. I know what they're doing," said McCoy, who was Denver's offensive coordinator the last four seasons. "You turn the film on, I can probably tell you what every play is. But I'm not playing. I'll give all the defense as much information as I can to help them."
The Broncos (7-1) are coming off their bye week. Before that, they scored the last 38 points in beating Washington 45-21 as Manning overcame four turnovers to throw for 354 yards and four touchdowns.
Hmm, sound familiar? The last time the Broncos were in San Diego, they trailed 24-0 at halftime before Manning calmly led them in an epic comeback that resulted in a 35-24 victory.
The Chargers (4-4) are coming off a 30-24 overtime loss at Washington in which they had three shots at the end zone from the 1-yard line in the closing seconds but failed to score a touchdown, leading to some serious second-guessing. They settled for a field goal and then lost in overtime.
If that loss wasn't crushing enough, the Chargers face the Broncos and Chiefs (9-0) twice each during the season's final eight weeks.
Here are five things to look for as the two of the NFL's best quarterbacks face off.
THE QUARTERBACKS: Manning and Rivers could really light it up. The bigger afternoon might belong to Manning, considering that the Chargers gave up 500 yards in their loss at Washington. Denver's a sieve in pass defense, too, ranking last in the NFL by allowing 299.1 yards per game. Manning has passed for 2,919 yards, the most through the first eight games in NFL history, and his 29 TD passes are second-most through the first eight games. The Broncos have scored 343 points, the most by a team through the first eight games of the season in NFL history. Manning leads the NFL with a 119.4 passer rating and Rivers is third at 106.5. Rivers leads the league with a 72.2 completion percentage and Manning is second at 71.2.
THE COACHES: Fox had his aortic valve replaced Monday in an operation he had hoped to delay until after the Super Bowl. Del Rio, who will keep his duties as defensive coordinator, is tasked with trying to keep the Broncos on track. "We believe we have a good football team," says Del Rio. "We're on a mission. We're on a mission to carry on and continue what coach Fox has going with this football team. We all want to make him proud." McCoy, meanwhile, says he's "where I am today because of a lot of people in the Denver Broncos organization and also the Carolina Panthers organization."
THE COMEBACK: The Broncos used last year's big rally as a springboard to winning their second straight AFC West title. Manning threw three touchdown passes in the second half and Tony Carter and Chris Harris scored off turnovers by Rivers. Rivers was intercepted four times — three in the fourth quarter — and lost two fumbles. The four pickoffs and six turnovers overall were both career highs. "I remember our execution was good in the second half. It wasn't very good in the first half," Manning said. "That's still what this game's about." Said Chargers tight end Antonio Gates: "It just shows you that a guy like Peyton is never out of a football game. That was the message that was learned from that game."
THE SECOND-GUESSING: Chargers fans weren't alone in questioning the play calling in San Diego's final series at Washington, when mighty-mite Danny Woodhead was stuffed on a run and Rivers threw two incompletions before the Chargers settled for a tying field goal. CBS commentator Dan Fouts — a Hall of Famer who played 15 years for San Diego — said the play calling was "curious." Others around the nation weren't as kind. McCoy, however, refused to question the calls by offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, a former head coach with Arizona. McCoy's rookie season also has been marked by a blunder with the inactive list and when he threw a challenge flag on a play he couldn't challenge.
BOLTS TURNED BRONCOS: Right guard Louis Vasquez and linebacker Shaun Phillips are now starting for the Broncos after leaving the Chargers as free agents. Philips leads the Broncos with 6 1/2 sacks. Cornerback Quentin Jammer also made the move from San Diego to Denver and is a backup.
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