How Penalties Shaped the Broncos Divisional Playoff Victory


Philip Rivers

Going into the Broncos-Chargers Divisional Playoff game yesterday, questions abounded whether the NFL had cursed the Denver Broncos by naming referee Clete Blakeman’s crew as the officials for the contest. Especially after said crew botched a call in the Patriots-Panthers contest in Week 11 and then refused to explain it.

The conspiracy meme was murmured across parts of Broncos Country and although the rumors proved false, there were moments that made even me skeptical.


About a minute into the 2nd Quarter on a 3rd and 2 play at midfield, Peyton Manning took the snap from the Shotgun and threw a short pass over the middle to Tight End Julius Thomas, who was being covered by Chargers Linebacker Donald Butler and Free Safety Jahleel Addae. The ball moved around in Julius’ hands as he went to the ground and it looked to me like his butt was on the ground before the ball was freed by Addae. At this point either Thomas is down by contact or the play is an Incomplete pass. The referee called it a catch and Fumble on the field and somehow Blakeman called it “Confirmed” from the Replay booth. So Cornerback Richard Marshall recovered the ball at the San Diego 43 and the play was upheld.

However, justice was served when the Bronco Defense held and Nick Novak’s 53 yard Field Goal Attempt sailed wide left.

Beyond that, there were few instances that didn’t transcend the officiating ruining the game.

The Chargers were penalized 8 times for 63 yards, while the Broncos were penalized 6 times for 50 yards. Both teams benefited twice for penalties resulting in 1st Downs. Here is a recap of what happened under the Yellow Flag.



The first infractions for the Chargers occurred in the  2nd Quarter. By virtue of his mastery of the “Hard Count” cadence, Peyton Manning coerced San Diego into committing two of their Five Neutral Zone Infractions on the second scoring drive for the Broncos.

In the 3rd Quarter, Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers connected with Running Back Ronnie Brown on a short middle screen pass that Michael Huff blew up for negative yardage. However, Wide Receiver Vincent Brown was flagged for Offensive Pass Interference when he set an Illegal Pick. This penalty helped stall San Diego at midfield. Mike Scifres punted into the endzone for a Touchback and the Broncos got good field position out of it.

Peyton Manning caused two more Neutral Zone Infractions during the next series, but the Denver drive stalled after 51 yards at the San Diego 29. Matt Prater’s kicked sailed wide left with the 3rd Quarter winding down and the Broncos still up, 17-0.

San Diego had the ball into the 4th Quarter and finally completed a scoring drive. Broncos Defensive End Robert Ayers was flagged for Illegal Use of Hands. This infraction came during the middle of the drive on a 1st and 10 play and did not make a difference either way. The play prior to and the 3rd play after the penalty were primarily responsible for the San Diego Touchdown. Quentin Jammer’s extremely poor coverage on rookie receiver Keenan Allen was responsible for that score.

On the ensuing kickoff, another gaffe happened when Broncos rookie Defensive Back Omar Bolden was called for an illegal Block in the back during the return. This boneheaded play cost Trindon Holliday a 105-yard Kick Return Touchdown. Denver drove 81 yards to score anyway, but this is a mistake that has happened more than a few times this season. During that drive on a 3rd and 7 play, Chargers Strong Safety Marcus Gilchrist was called for Pass Interference, which resulted in a 23 yard net gain. Peyton picked on Gilchrist three more times before the Defensive Back left with an injury. 3 plays later, Knowshon Moreno made it 24-7 on a 3-yard run up the middle.



The remaining 4 flags on the Broncos are charted here.

In the 1st Quarter, on the sixth play of the Chargers first series, Defensive Tackle Malik Jackson incurred a 15 yard Face Mask penalty when he got a finger in on Danny Woodhead’s grille. This stop came on a 3rd and 17 and would have forced a punt, but gave the Bolts a 1st d0own. However, no harm was done since the Denver Defense tightened up. San Diego was forced to punt 3 plays later.

In the 2nd Quarter (right after Nick Novak’s missed Field Goal Attempt), on the Broncos first play from their own 43 yard line, Knowshon Moreno was called for Offensive Pass Interference. The Broncos recovered from this with a 12-yard screen pass to Moreno and the 1st of two Neutral Zone Infractions during this drive on the Charger Defense. The Denver Offense marched 63 yards on 9 plays for a Peyton Manning to Welker TD pass to take a 14-0 lead.

In the 3rd Quarter, Julius Thomas took a False Start penalty. This put the Broncos in a 3rd and 11 situation. Manning tried to connect with Wes Welker deep down the middle, but it went incomplete. Matt Prater came on and converted a 45 yard Field Goal to put the Broncos ahead 17-0.

The last Bronco penalty came in the 4th Quarter. The Denver Offense was trying to run out the clock. With 3:51 left, from their own 27 yard line, Left Guard Zane Beadles incurred the Broncos second False Start penalty of the game.

This penalty combined with some conservative play calling could have been a critical mistake if not for a terrific catch by Julius Thomas on 3rd and 17 to help Denver run out the clock. Julius caught another 3rd Down pass and Knowshon Moreno had a vital conversion to nail the victory at the end.

The five Neutral Zone penalties that Peyton Manning caused helped the Broncos Offensive Line protect their Quarterback and keep the San Diego defenders guessing. The Offensive Line imposed their will on the Chargers and were effective opening holes for Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball.


Their was another factor that influenced the outcome of this game–The raucous and boisterous Mile High crowd. A Hometown advantage is nothing without a roaring cheering section and Broncos Country brought it yesterday. They were so quiet when the Broncos had the ball that I could clearly hear Peyton Manning’s voice throughout the stadium and into my living room. By the same token, when Philip Rivers tried to take a snap, the crowd brought the Rocky Mountain Thunder. This caused San Diego to burn their Timeouts and flustered the Chargers Quarterback into not one but TWO on field Tantrums, one of which was expertly mimicked by Robert Ayers.

Maybe that was a Cold shot, but revenge is a dish best served cold.


Go Broncos!

– Kaptain Kirk

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