The Denver Broncos gave head coach John Fox a homecoming gift on Monday night: a wild 35-24 come-from-behind victory against the San Diego Chargers.
Fox, a Castle Park High School graduate who went on to play football at Southwestern College, arrived in town for the important AFC West Division showdown with the Chargers needing a win to forge a deadlock atop the divisional standings.
But after the Chargers capitalized on several Broncos’ turnovers en route to building a 24-0 halftime lead, it appeared that Fox and Denver quarterback Peyton Manning would leave America’s Finest City two games behind the Chargers in the loss column.
However, the Chargers decided to play giveaway in the second half, leading to 35 unanswered points by the visitors in one of the biggest comebacks ever posted in the Monday Night Football TV franchise history.
Fox, who owns a Super Bowl championship ring with the Carolina Panthers, called the comeback one of the biggest he has ever been involved with at any level.
“I think we grew a little bit,” he told reporters at a post-game news conference.
Manning, a Super Bowl MVP with the Indianapolis Colts, threw three second-half touchdown passes while the Broncos tacked on two key defensive scores.
While Manning put his veteran experience to good use, it was Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers who suffered a meltdown.
Rivers tossed a pair of scoring passes to Antonio Gates in the first half but finished the game with four interceptions and two fumbles.
With his team leading 24-7 in the third quarter, Rivers had his throwing arm hit and fumbled the ball. Tony Carter recovered the loose ball for Denver and bolted 65 yards into the end zone. A Matt Prater PAT made the score 24-14.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter and Manning made things even more interesting when he hit Eric Decker for a seven-yard touchdown to further close the Chargers’ lead to 24-21.
Manning completed his third touchdown pass of the half to Brandon Stokley for 21 yards with 9:03 remaining in the game to finally push the Broncos in front 28-24.
Disaster then struck Rivers again as Denver’s Chris Harris stepped in front of a San Diego receiver along the sideline just prior to the two-minute warning and returned the intercepted pass 46 yards for a touchdown.
Manning finished the nationally-televised match-up with 309 passing yards, hitting on 24 of 30 attempts, with three touchdowns and one interception for a 129.0 quarterback rating.
Rivers was 25-of-41 for 242 yards with two TDs, four picks and four sacks for a 54.2 quarterback rating.
Besides Rivers’ two scoring passes to Gates — the NFL’s all-time quarterback to tight end combo with 51 career touchdowns between them — Nick Novack kicked a 32-yard field goal and Quentin Jammer returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown.
Both teams now have 3-3 records. However, the Chargers are 3-1 in divisional games while the Broncos are 3-2 in divisional contests.
Both teams enter a bye week. Denver hosts New Orleans (1-4) on Oct. 28; the Chargers play at Cleveland (1-5), also on Oct. 28.
Fox said he always looks forward to returning to San Diego for games, even if it means going head-to-head against the hometown Chargers.
"I love coming home," he said. "I have a lot of family and friends at the game. I'm going to go see them as soon as I'm done here. It's a great city and I enjoy coming back every time."
Two of his former boyhood coaches — Gil Warren and Bing Dawson — are still active in coaching, now at Olympian High School.
The Eagles are one of only three undefeated teams remaining in the San Diego Section following their 34-20 Metro-Mesa League victory last Friday.
"It was nice to see him at the game," Warren said. "I wasn't too happy that they beat the Chargers but I was glad they (the Broncos) played well (for Fox)."
Paul Martinez contributed to this story.