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PFT’s Week Five picks

Luck AP

The gap has been narrowed from three games to two, thanks to 10-5 showing last week.  The good news for MDS, who went a mere 9-6, was that he had his first hole in one of the year, picking the Seahawks to beat the Texans by the score of 23-20.  (I’d be really impressed if he also predicted overtime.)

For the year, MDS leads with a mark of 43-20, or 68.2 percent.  I’m closing in on him with a 41-22 mark, which equates to 65 percent.

This week, we disagree on 21.4 percent of the games.  Read on for our takes and our picks.

Bills at Browns

MDS’s take: Browns fever is sweeping the nation! OK, that’s a slight overstatement, but this team is playing very well, especially on defense, where new coordinator Ray Horton deserves an enormous amount of credit. Cleveland will beat Buffalo and improve to 3-0 since allegedly giving up on the season by trading Trent Richardson.

MDS’s pick: Browns 17, Bills 14.

Florio’s take:  The Bills are too banged up and the Browns, two weeks after they supposedly abandoned their season, are too strong on defense and sufficiently competent on offense to lose.  With two home wins only four days apart, they’ll soon have to call it the Factory of Gladness.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 20, Bills 14.

Saints at Bears

MDS’s take: The Bears’ defense is missing Henry Melton and struggled against Detroit’s offense last week. This week an even better New Orleans offense is heading to Chicago, and the Bears’ defense will struggle again.

MDS’s pick: Saints 28, Bears 24.

Florio’s take:  The Saints are much improved, but they’re still not the same team when they exit the Superdome.  The winless Bucs nearly beat them in Tampa; the much better Bears will finish the job on the choppy turf of Soldier Field.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Saints 21.

Patriots at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Patriots will miss Vince Wilfork’s presence on the defensive line. Look for Bengals running back Giovani Bernard to have a big day as the Patriots suffer their first loss of the season.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 21, Patriots 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals are learning how to be a good team.  A week after failing to win a game they should have, the Bengals find a way to prevail in a contest many assume they’ll lose.  And down goes another of the undefeated.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Patriots 24.

Lions at Packers

MDS’s take: The Lions have lost 22 in a row in Green Bay. The last time the Lions beat the Packers on the road, it was 1991 and the starting quarterbacks in the game were Erik Kramer and Mike Tomczak. The Lions are just not very good at Lambeau Field. The streak will continue for another year.

MDS’s pick: Packers 27, Lions 20.

Florio’s take:  Earlier this year, the Lions won for the first time ever in Washington.  And now it could be time to win in Green Bay for the first time since the year before Brett Favre arrived.  But the Packers are rested and ready and healed (for the most part) after a bye week.  More importantly, they’re desperate to avoid a 1-3 start to the season.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 31, Lions 24.

Seahawks at Colts

MDS’s take: The Seahawks tend to struggle on the road, and the Colts are playing excellent football, looking even better than last year’s surprise playoff team. So my head is telling me to pick Indianapolis. But my gut is telling me Russell Wilson is going to have an easier time finding open receivers in the Colts’ secondary than Andrew Luck will have finding open receivers in the Seahawks’ secondary, and that will be the difference.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 28, Colts 27.

Florio’s take
:  Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton won’t be allowing former Stanford cornerback (and receiver) Richard Sherman to spot any tendencies or tells this week.  If the Colts can outscore the 49ers by 20 in their own building, the Colts can outscore the Seahawks by at least one at home.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Seahawks 23.

Ravens at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Perhaps it’s premature, four weeks into the season, to say this about the defending Super Bowl champion. But I just don’t think the Ravens are a very good team. The Dolphins’ defense had plenty of flaws on display in Monday night’s loss to the Saints, but the Ravens’ suspect offensive line is going to make it easy for the Dolphins to get to Joe Flacco.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 31, Ravens 17.

Florio’s take:  In 2007, the Dolphins got their only win of the season against the Ravens.  This year, it will be one of a lot more than one.  While it’s too early to write off Baltimore, it’s too late to consider them a viable candidate to knock off the improved Dolphins in Miami.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Ravens 20.

Eagles at Giants

MDS’s take: Other than the first half of Week One, the Eagles haven’t looked particularly good this season. But the Giants have looked downright awful. The NFC East is such a bad division that even at 0-4 the Giants aren’t out of it yet, but they’ll drop to 0-5 on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 27, Giants 17.

Florio’s take:  Forget the 0-4 record.  The Giants are only two games out of first place, and they can pull to within one with a win over Philly and a Dallas loss to the Broncos.  Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning finally find a way to a win.  (And I’ll keep saying that until they finally do.)

Florio’s pick:  Giants 27, Eagles 19.

Jaguars at Rams

MDS’s take: I’d pick anyone to beat the Jaguars. Easily. This Jacksonville team is as bad an NFL team as I’ve ever seen, and I remember the 2008 Lions well.

MDS’s pick: Rams 34, Jaguars 17.

Florio’s take:  What’s more likely, the Broncos going 16-0 or the Jaguars going 0-16?  This week, we’ll remain on track for “both.”

Florio’s pick:  Rams 27, Jaguars 10.

Chiefs at Titans

MDS’s take: In this matchup of two surprise AFC playoff contenders, I probably would have picked Tennessee if Jake Locker were healthy. But with Locker out, the Chiefs will improve to 5-0. Who saw that coming?

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 20, Titans 14.

Florio’s take:  Alex Smith gets his first crack at a Gregg Williams defense since proof emerged of Williams telling his players to hurt Smith.  The bigger problem for the Titans is that quarterback Jake Locker is hurt.  So which Ryan Fitzpatrick shows up — the one from before he got paid by the Bills, or after?

Florio’s pick
:  Chiefs 21, Titans 17.

Panthers at Cardinals

MDS’s take: The Panthers won’t catch the Saints in the NFC South, and the Cardinals won’t catch the Seahawks in the NFC West. But the winner of this game will have to feel like it’s in very good position to emerge as an NFC wild card contender. I think it’s going to be the Panthers, who have an offense that’s capable of putting a lot of points on the board. I don’t see Arizona’s offense keeping up.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 31, Cardinals 17.

Florio’s take:  For Carolina, the bye week makes many forget a dominant performance against the Giants.  Not me.  The defense is clicking and the offense is doing enough to outpace a better-than-expected Arizona team in its own building.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 24, Cardinals 21.

Broncos at Cowboys

MDS’s take: This is the flip side of what I said earlier about the Jaguars: I’d pick the Broncos to beat anyone. (Although I’d probably have to think long and hard about it if they played at Seattle.) The Broncos are the best team in football and will improve to 5-0, while the Cowboys will fall to 2-3, which in the NFC East is still good enough for first place.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Cowboys 21.

Florio’s take:  Jerry Jones wants Tony Romo to be Peyton Manning.  Tony Romo is no Peyton Manning.  Jerry Jones will get to see it up close on Sunday.  To his dismay.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 42, Cowboys 24.

Chargers at Raiders

MDS’s take: In the midnight special, Philip Rivers will put up big numbers against a suspect Raiders defense. The winners will be the Chargers and the losers will be any fans who stay up to watch the whole game and have to be at work on Monday morning.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 28, Raiders 20.

Florio’s takeTerrelle Pryor has created hope for the Raiders, but that doesn’t mean there will be wins.  The Chargers are the better team on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Philip Rivers is reminding everyone that he’s still a franchise quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 26, Raiders 20.

Texans at 49ers

MDS’s take: This is a big one for two teams that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations and are now looking up at better teams in their own divisions. San Francisco’s defense will miss Aldon Smith, but they’ll still be able to get enough pressure on Matt Schaub to force him into another disappointing game.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Texans 20.

Florio’s take:  A pair of Super Bowl contenders that have failed to meet expectations meet in San Francisco with the expectation that the 49ers will win.  Expect that to happen, with the Niners sticking with a smash-mouth attack and the Texans sliding under .500 — and possibly two games out of first place in the AFC South.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Texans 17.

Jets at Falcons

MDS’s take: Geno Smith may develop into a good quarterback eventually, but right now he’s a mess, and Monday night he’s going to have a particularly tough time when playing with a depleted receiving corps. The Jets’ defense is good enough to keep this game low scoring, but the Falcons will force multiple turnovers and control this game.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 17, Jets 6.

Florio’s take:  The surprisingly 1-3 Falcons host the surprisingly 2-2 Jets in a game with an outcome that will surprise no one.  Folks who stayed up late to watch Chargers-Raiders will get to catch up on their sleep by turning in at halftime, and in the morning they’ll find out whether the Falcons once again blew a big lead.  What has two thumbs and thinks they won’t?

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 42, Jets 17.

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Friday morning one-liners

San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos Getty Images

WR Chris Hogan has moved into a bigger role on the Bills offense.

The Dolphins have gotten solid work from LB Jelani Jenkins.

The Patriots defense should face some stiffer tests in the coming weeks.

Said Jets G Willie Colon of WR Percy Harvin, “If you have guys who make big plays, crucial plays, at big moments, those are the teams that are winning. It is shocking that we got him. He was such a big factor for Seattle.”

Ravens RB Bernard Pierce says he’s not frustrated by an inconsistent workload.

C Russell Bodine is a “Clint Eastwood style” leader for the Bengals.

The Browns aren’t panicking about their leaky run defense.

S Mike Mitchell is still finding his way in the Steelers defense.

Texans DL Jared Crick is looking forward to facing Titans QB Zach Mettenberger.

Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief stand to gain more action if WR Reggie Wayne is out for the Colts.

Jaguars DB Alan Ball thinks he’ll play again this season.

Will the move to QB Zach Mettenberger open up the Titans offense?

RB Ronnie Hillman continues to make a strong case for continued playing time in the Broncos backfield.

Chiefs WR Albert Wilson is cherishing his first NFL reception.

The Raiders haven’t lost their patience in TE Mychal Rivera.

Thursday night brought more milestones for Chargers TE Antonio Gates.

The case for franchising Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray.

Giants RB Andre Williams had a rough day in Dallas last week.

The Eagles aren’t getting the job done in the red zone.

Redskins DL Jason Hatcher isn’t making too much of this Sunday’s game against his former Cowboys teammates.

A call for the Bears to hand more of their offense to RB Matt Forte.

This week’s trip to London gave Lions DE Ziggy Ansah a chance to see his sister for the first time in years.

Packers WR Randall Cobb is making an impact when QB Aaron Rodgers is forced to scramble.

The Vikings are looking for more consistency from CB Captain Munnerlyn.

The food in London hasn’t been a big hit with Falcons players.

Panthers DE Wes Horton thinks the team has a good plan for dealing with Russell Wilson.

QB Drew Brees and the young Saints receivers are still figuring each other out.

Why do the Buccaneers defer when they win a coin toss?

Cardinals LB Sam Acho will be on the other side of the field from his brother this Sunday.

The rise of RB Tre Mason with the Rams has come at the expense of Zac Stacy.

A look ahead to the second half of the 49ers schedule.

Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn thinks Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright make good fill-ins for injured LB Bobby Wagner.

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ESPN confirms existence of Seattle locker-room divide, in unusual way

Wilson AP

The Seahawks have a divided locker room.  Unless they don’t.  Unless they do.

ESPN has advanced the ball on this topic in an unusual way.  Appearing on SportsCenter and introducing Thursday’s sound from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, anchor Kenny Mayne encroached on the turf of national insiders Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, and roughly 17 or so others.

“Two sources — one inside the team, one outside of the underachieving 3-3 Seahawks — tell me that much of what was written in Mike Freeman’s Bleacher Report column is true,” Mayne said, apparently reading from carefully-crafted prompter copy.  “[Freeman] wrote of turmoil involving since-traded Percy Harvin and the quarterback Russell Wilson that led to a more widespread internal battle pitting those for Russell Wilson and those against.  And Freeman surmised on his own an issue among some teammates regarding Wilson that quote, he isn’t black enough.  A certain expected behavior based on color, apparently.  One of the sources told me, quote, I don’t know how he got all that stuff, but it’s pretty much true.  We do have a divide.  We’re working on it.  Thursday that notion was not presented to Wilson, but over and again, questions came about Harvin’s departure.”

First, Freeman didn’t surmise on his own the question of whether Wilson is “black enough.”  While Freeman chose not to share any specific quotes he had gathered directly from members of the organization, here’s what he said:  “My feeling on this — and it’s backed up by several interviews with Seahawks players — is that some of the black players think Wilson isn’t black enough.”  (Emphasis added.)

Second, the notion of a locker-room divide was presented to Wilson.

“There’s no division in our locker room,” Wilson told reporters.  “There’s none at all. If anything, I think we’ve continued to build, continued to grow. I truly believe that.  I think that the guys that we have in the locker room, the guys that believe that we can still go 1 and 0 and still be a championship team; those are the guys that we have sitting in this room every day. Every morning when we wake up, we’re looking for one common goal and that’s to win football games.”

Over the weekend, Mortensen attempted to shoot down “speculation” (it was more than speculation) of Harvin vs. Wilson by reporting that Wilson “actually wanted to help Percy Harvin with anger & trust issues,” and that the team — not Wilson — gave up on Harvin.  Mayne’s words dispute the picture Mortensen painted.

Which possibly creates a (wait for it) divide in Bristol between the folks charged with gathering news and those with the responsibility of teeing up the news gatherers, talking over highlights, trying to be funny, and sometimes succeeding.

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Browns would prefer one of their backs to take control of job

Ben Tate AP

The Browns are deep enough at running back that they withstood an injury to their free agent starter, and still ran well with a pair of rookies.

But when Ben Tate returned, that meant chopping up the workload among three of them. That’s caused them to wonder about their ability to get into a rhythm, but offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had an easy solution to the problem.

“If they want to be out there more, they need to separate themselves and show that they’re obviously better than the other guy and we’ll keep them out there more,” Shanahan said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I don’t ever worry about running backs getting into a rhythm. They’re not quarterbacks. When you hand them the ball they better run hard and do as good as they can.”

Tate should know about not getting into a flow, having backed up Arian Foster for four years in Houston. So he empathizes with Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, who have had fewer opportunities lately.

“I had to do that for four years,” Tate said. “You just have to be ready at all times. You just have to watch and pay close attention to what’s going on and ask. When I was doing that, I would ask Arian [Foster] how the ‘backers are flowing. You have to be very in-tune with the game and understand what’s going on so when you’re out there you don’t miss a beat. I understand what they’re saying. Trust me. I’ve been there. If anybody knows, I know.

“Even now, sometimes you feel like your rhythm gets interrupted but you just have to deal with it. You have to do whatever’s best for the team.”

Tate has naturally gravitated into the lead role, but both West and Crowell have shown that they could do so as well. It’s a luxury for the Browns, as other teams who want to run have a hard time keeping backs on the field.

But it’s also going to take some ego managing on the part of coaches, to make sure they all stay engaged if they’re not the one getting fed that day.

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Reggie Bush remains out, Calvin Johnson remains in at Lions practice

Buffalo Bills v Detroit Lions Getty Images

When the week started, Lions running back Reggie Bush was certain that he’d play against the Falcons on Sunday despite leaving last week’s game because of an ankle injury.

That prediction is now looking overly optimistic. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that Bush is not practicing in London on Friday, making it two straight days that Bush has not been able to join his teammates on the field after starting the week with a limited practice on Wednesday.

Bush’s absence in Week Six and inability to complete Week Seven mixed with the team’s bye week waiting after they finish Sunday’s game may push the Lions to use Joique Bell and Theo Riddick this week and revisit things with Bush down the road. In better news for the Lions, wide receiver Calvin Johnson practiced for the third straight day as the condition of his ankle appears to be trending in the right direction.

The official injury report will be released later on Friday and we’ll also find out the status of the team’s tight ends once it comes off the wire. Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria all joined Bush on the sideline at practice and coach Jim Caldwell indicated Thursday that Pettigrew was the only one with a serious shot of playing this week.

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Peyton about a year away from Favre’s yardage record

favrepeyton Getty Images

After breaking Brett Favre’s record for career passing touchdowns last week, Peyton Manning is about a year away from breaking Favre’s record for career passing yards.

Through Thursday night’s win over the Chargers, Manning has 67,098 career passing yards. That puts him 4,740 behind Favre’s all-time NFL record of 71,838.

Manning has averaged 315 yards a game as a Bronco, so if he keeps up that pace, he’ll break Favre’s record in 16 more games. Expect more celebrations of Manning’s greatness at this time next year.

Manning is also 594 completions away from Favre’s career record, meaning Manning will likely break that record in 2016. At least one of Favre’s records is safe, however: Favre has the all-time record for career interceptions, with 336. Manning, who has 222 interceptions in his career, is the active leader. If Manning keeps throwing interceptions at his Denver pace of about 10 for every 16 games, he’d need to play about 12 more years to top Favre’s interception record. That one seems safe.

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Bengals not facing a blackout, at least this week anyway

Tennessee Titans v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

With three home games in a 12-day span, the Bengals have a significant concern about blackouts.

They’ve been able to push that off for Sunday, anyway.

Via the Cincinnati Enquirer, the team announced they reached the 85-percent threshold for this week’s game against the Ravens, clearing it to air on the local broadcast station.

The bigger test will come next week, when they play the hated (not really) Jaguars, which is followed by a Thursday night visit from the Browns.

They haven’t been blacked out this season, but it has taken until the Thursday before each of their games for that to become clear.

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Calvin Pryor hasn’t had expected impact on Jets defense

New York Jets v New England Patriots Getty Images

When the Jets drafted safety Calvin Pryor in the first round of May’s draft, the team talked about the impact he would have as a big hitter in the back end of a defense that hasn’t had good safety play during Rex Ryan’s time as head coach.

The Jets are now seven games into Pryor’s rookie season and they are waiting to see Pryor make that impact. Coach Rex Ryan said Thursday that Pryor missed an interception in the first game of the season and that the results have continued to be disappointing relative to the team’s expectations.

“Probably started with the first game when he dropped that pick-six. But, he hasn’t had the impact necessarily that I think all of us had expected, but quite honestly, our defense has been played a little differently than maybe we had anticipated,” Ryan said in comments distributed by the team. “So, I think we’ve had to make some of those adjustments along the way. It hasn’t gone according to plan so to speak.”

One of the problems seems to be the Jets’ lack of decent cornerback options, which leads them to play less man than Ryan likely anticipated. That leaves Pryor in a deeper role to provide help to those corners instead of being deployed closer to the line where his hitting can be more of a factor.

Ryan’s job security isn’t good, thanks in large part to those cornerbacks, so he may never gets a chance to use Pryor as intended in his defense.

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Lions aren’t looking to make moves at trade deadline

Martin Mayhew AP

Few have been as aggressive at the in-season trade deadline at the Lions, but it doesn’t seem that’s going to continue.

Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew told reporters he didn’t anticipate doing anything by Tuesday’s deadline. He’s done three such deals in

“I know we kind of talk to everybody around the league, get calls from different teams and things like that,” Mayhew said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “But I don’t anticipate us making any moves at the trade deadline.”

He’s presided over three deals since taking over in 2008, including sending wide receiver Roy Williams to Dallas.

But with some wondering about the future of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as he enters the final year of his contract, Mayhew said that wasn’t a consideration.

“I don’t have any plan to trade anybody, leave it at that,” he said.

Of course, plans can change. But unlike years past, the Lions seem fairly stable at the moment, with the league’s best defense, a quarterback who is taking care of the ball and a coach in Jim Caldwell who has brought his calm touch to an underachieving team.

At the moment, things are going well for the Lions, so messing with the formula might not be the best play.

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Peyton Manning does not approve of your scoreboard shenanigans

Peyton Manning AP

Philip Rivers laughed and played along with the joke.

Peyton Manning, however, seemed serious about the scoreboard shenanigans in Denver last night.

During the fourth quarter of the Broncos win, the stadium video board operator flashed shots of Rivers and Manning, causing the crowd to alternate between boos and hosannas. According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, this went on for a bit before someone in the organization told them to knock it off.

“I really don’t know how to respond to that,” Rivers said. “Other than if you had told me when I was 10 years old they would show me in front of 75,000 and get booed, and Peyton Manning in the same clip and get cheered, I’d say that’s pretty awesome.”

Manning did not share those feelings.

“I’ve got to have a talk with our scoreboard operator,” Manning said. “He’s playing music and showing players dancing and getting the crowd fired up when we have the ball. I don’t think he should be doing that.

“And I don’t think he should be showing their quarterback on the sideline. I thought that was kind of disrespectful. Our fans our great, our fans are loud, but our scoreboard operator, it wasn’t his best night.”

So get it straight, Mr. Scoreboard Operator. You’re going to have to tighten up your game. Or show more Buick and Papa John’s ads as punishment.

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Peyton Manning shouts “Romo!” before snap, hands off

Peyton Manning AP

As Denver tried to run out the clock in the final three minutes of Thursday night’s game vs. San Diego, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning barked signals near the line of scrimmage.

Then, he shouted a word — a surname, it sure seemed — that caught the attention.

“Romo!” Manning barked, as this NFL.com clip confirms.

A few seconds later, Manning handed off to tailback Juwan Thompson, who gained five yards up the middle, giving Denver its final first down in a 35-21 victory.

Was “Romo” a reference to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo? Or was it a nod to Giants pitcher Sergio Romo? Or could it be a shout out to United Kingdom clothier The Romo Group?

Anyways, in the final minutes, Manning was also heard barking “Elway! Elway!” before the snap. This would figure to be a reference to former Broncos quarterback / current G.M. John Elway. “Apple!” and old-standard “Omaha!” were also yelled by Manning.

These 21st century microphones sure are powerful.

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Jahleel Addae says he had a stringer, not a concussion

San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos Getty Images

San Diego Chargers safety Jahleel Addae appeared to come up woozy after a play in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s game against the Denver Broncos.

Addae charged up to deliver a hit to Broncos running back Juwan Thompson and came away from the play noticeably affected.

It appeared as though Addae may have suffered a concussion on the play. However, Addae says he was evaluated on the sidelined and cleared to return to the game.

According to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Addae said he suffered a stringer on the play instead.

Addae had four tackles for the Chargers in the 35-21 loss to Denver.

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Manning, Sanders lead Broncos to 35-21 victory over Chargers

Sanders Getty Images

Peyton Manning tossed three touchdown passes to Emmanuel Sanders, Juwan Thompson rushed for two scores and the Denver Broncos cruised to a 35-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night.

Ronnie Hillman also rushed for 109 yards for Denver as the Broncos offense looked in fine form against the Chargers.

Manning connected with Sanders for touchdowns of 2, 3, and 31 yards as the Broncos took a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter. Thompson’s first score of the night extended the score to 28-7 with 7:34 left to play in the third quarter.

Sanders finished with nine catches on the night for 120 yards and three touchdowns while Demaryius Thomas also eclipsed the 100-yard mark with eight grabs for 105 yards for Denver.

The Broncos completely shut down the rushing offense of the Chargers Thursday night and forced Philip Rivers to do everything for San Diego offensively. Branden Oliver carried 13 times for just 36 yards on the night with Donald Brown carrying once for 8 yards. Rivers was the Chargers leading rusher due to one 17-yard scramble until Oliver broke a 23-yard run on the game’s final play.

Rivers 4-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates to cap a 12-play, 80-yard drive gave the Chargers some life. However, the Broncos answered right back with another touchdown drive to extend the lead to 35-14.

Rivers and Gates hooked up again on a 10-yard touchdown to again cut the deficit to 14 points with 9:31 left to play. A missed 53-yard field goal by Brandon McManus gave the Chargers a change to further cut down Denver’s lead, but Rivers was intercepted by Rahim Moore to all but seal the win for Denver.

San Diego had some questionable officiating decisions go against them that significantly hurt their chances. A fumble by kick returner Andre Caldwell was overturned upon replay review despite video showing the ball being ripped out of Caldwell’s hands by San Diego before his elbow hit the ground. In addition, the Broncos scored a fourth quarter touchdown one play after an interception by Eric Weddle in the end zone was negated by a defensive holding penalty on Marcus Gilchrist.

But Denver was clearly the better team on Thursday night and appears to clearly be the best team in the AFC right now.

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Chargers cut Denver’s lead to 28-14

Antonio Gates AP

After three straight Denver touchdowns turned a 7-7 game into a 28-7 deficit for San Diego on Thursday night, the visiting Chargers finally counter-punched.

Antonio Gates‘ four-yard fourth-down TD pass from Philip Rivers cut the Broncos’ lead to 28-14 with 2:39 left in the third quarter in Denver. The touchdown capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive highlighted by a leaping 26-yard reception by Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd. However, Floyd appeared to suffer an arm injury on the play and went inside for medical treatment.

Rivers has completed 24-of-34 passes against the Broncos with a pair of scores, but nothing has come easy for San Diego, which has largely dinked-and-dunked in the passing game.

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Malcom Floyd heads to locker room after impressive catch

San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos Getty Images

San Diego Chargers receiver Malcom Floyd made a stellar reception leaping between two Denver Broncos defenders.

Floyd landed hard after hauling the pass and headed into the locker room shortly after with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.

Floyd caught two passes for 42 yards on the night for San Diego, the final one covering 26 yards before heading inside to get further evaluation.

The Chargers announced that Floyd was probable to return to the game, which is a big boost for San Diego as they attempt to rally from a 14-point deficit late in the third quarter.

UPDATE 11:00 p.m. ET: Floyd returned to the game for the Chargers on their ensuing offensive possession.

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Manning to Sanders for third TD of night extends Broncos lead

San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Peyton Manning connected with Emmanuel Sanders on a 3-yard touchdown pass to extend the Denver Broncos lead to 21-7 over the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

It was the third touchdown of the night between Manning and Sanders. The two players hooked up for a 2-yard touchdown and a 31-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give the Broncos a 14-7 lead at halftime.

Manning led Denver on a six-play, 51-yard scoring drive with the touchdown to Sanders extending the Broncos lead.

Sanders has six catches for 92 yards and three scores on the night for Denver. Manning is 18 of 25 for 221 yards.

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