BERNIE WILSON, AP Sports Writer
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Chargers stunned the Denver Broncos five weeks ago, making Peyton Manning look average and claiming a road victory that was part of a late-season surge that helped sweep San Diego into the playoffs.
They’ll have to do it again Sunday in a divisional-round game against the top-seeded Broncos in Denver to keep their January joyride going.
“We’re going to come in there with a vengeance and see if we can shock the world again,” Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle said Thursday.
As much as the Chargers’ offense contributed to the 27-20 victory at Denver on Dec. 12, defensive coordinator John Pagano came up with a game plan that helped frustrate Manning and the high-powered Broncos.
The Bolts held the Broncos to season lows in points and total offensive yards (295). The Broncos had only 18 yards rushing.
The Broncos were forced to punt on four straight possessions in the second and third quarters, a streak that started with three straight three-and-outs.
“It’s always a challenge for us as a staff for putting those things together when you see an opponent for the third time,” Pagano said. “There’s so many things that they know about us and we know about them. It really comes down to between the lines, players going out and executing. Sometimes you can’t worry about, ‘Oh, they’ve seen this before, or done this before.’ You’ve just got to go out and execute. If players go at a high level no matter what the call is and we got execute, you’re always going to have that success.
“We know each other so well that you’ve got to disguise a little bit and change it up a little bit.”
Pagano said the Chargers communicated well, didn’t give up big plays and tackled well.
“When you do those three things defensively, it always gives you an opportunity to win.”
While Manning is 3-1 against San Diego since coming to the Broncos, the Chargers eliminated the Manning-led Indianapolis Colts from the playoffs following the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
Pagano said every game is different and can change on one play.
He mentioned a big play in Sunday’s 27-10 wild-card victory at Cincinnati. With the Bengals driving for the go-ahead score in the second quarter, inside linebacker Donald Butler forced Giovani Bernard to fumble after a reception just before halftime Sunday, with San Diego’s Richard Marshall recovering in the end zone.
“When Donald made that caused fumble down there in the red zone, the football universe rotated and it switched,” Pagano said. “Those are the things that change for you. Each game’s different. We’ve got to go out and we’ve got to execute. All the success of the past staffs and past players have had, you hope to play at a high level like they did before.”
Nonetheless, there’s something special about playing Manning.
“He’s the best. He’s one of the greatest to ever play our game,” Pagano said. “It’s how we are every Sunday, though. It’s the No. 1 offense. It’s the greatest offense to ever play in the National Football League, yards-wise, production-wise. It’s a big-time challenge, in a hostile environment, that our guys are getting their minds right and getting focused on.”
The December victory at Denver was special in a lot of ways for Pagano.
When rookie coach Mike McCoy awarded game balls in the locker room, the first one went to Pagano.
His father, Sam, watched from the sideline. Pagano and his older brother, Chuck, coach of the Colts, played for their father at Fairview High in Boulder.
Sam Pagano will be on the sideline again Sunday.
“He’ll be right down there, guarding the heaters, like always,” John Pagano said. “He’s always right there. Anytime you can get him down on the field, it’s exciting.”
Also Thursday, Ken Whisenhunt, who’s in his first season as San Diego’s offensive coordinator, refused to confirm reports that he’ll be interviewed this week by Detroit, Tennessee and Cleveland for their head coaching vacancies.
“I understand the process and I appreciate the interest, but I just want to make sure everyone understands we’re focused on the game Sunday,” Whisenhunt said.
How can he focus with three interviews in as many days?
“It’s not hard,” he said. “It’s a playoff game. That’s where the focus has been. Anything outside of that has been secondary.”
Asked if he bought a house here or is renting, he said: “I’ve enjoyed living here.”
Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator with Pittsburgh when the Steelers won the Super Bowl after the 2005 season. He coached Arizona into the Super Bowl after the 2008 season, losing to the Steelers.
McCoy doesn’t think Whisenhunt’s busy interview schedule will be a distraction or keep him from preparing for the game.
“I have complete confidence in our entire staff that there’s one goal in mind. That’s to find a way to win this game. That’s been our mindset and we’re not changing that,” McCoy said.
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