SAN DIEGO, California (Reuters) - Peyton Manning orchestrated the biggest comeback of his career as the Denver Broncos erased a 24-point halftime deficit to beat the San Diego Chargers 35-24 at Qualcomm Stadium on Monday.
Manning endured a miserable opening half that included an interception return for a touchdown, before the quarterback climbed out of a 24-0 hole with a vintage display after the break as the Broncos went on a rampage.
He threw for three touchdowns and completed 24-of-30 passes on the night for 309 yards as Denver also added two defensive scores of their own to post 35 unanswered points and join the Chargers at the top of the AFC West on identical 3-3 records.
The four-time league MVP and 2006 Super Bowl winner completed 13-of-14 passes for 167 yards and three scores after the break, hitting everything in a Denver jersey with precision.
His pass to Brandon Stokley to put Denver ahead in the final quarter capped a run of 13 straight completions and tied famed quarterback Dan Marino on top of the record books as his 47th game-winning drive in a fourth quarter or overtime.
“It sure was special considering what was on the line,” Manning told reporters. “This was a pivotal game. It was a must-win game.”
While the Broncos have a modest .500 record the result left no doubt as to the value Manning brings to the organization, joining the side after spending 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and sitting out 2012 with a serious neck injury.
At 2-3 coming into the divisional game, plenty were starting to suggest he was over the hill and perhaps not an astute acquisition.
The 36-year-old defied any questions about his pace in the pocket or accuracy with the long ball, scrambling often and making some huge passing plays throughout the comeback.
“Everyone talked about him (negatively) a couple of weeks ago but he’s been the least of my worries,” Broncos head coach John Fox said.
“He performed very well and has performed very well over the last four weeks. I think he’s just going to get better and better.”
The result eclipsed Manning’s previous best second half turnaround of 21 points and equaled the second biggest halftime comeback in the Super Bowl era.
It also tied fourth as the greatest comeback from any point in a match in NFL history.
“These comeback victories are great but all it means is that you screwed up in the first half,” Manning said.
”It was good to put it all together, offence and defense.
“The sideline was as energetic as I’ve been around in a while. Just imagine what we can do when we don’t put ourselves in a hole in the first half.”
Chargers counterpart Philip Rivers, meanwhile, had a night to forget, notching up four interceptions and two fumbles, with two of his turnovers returned for touchdowns.
“When you lose a game, it’s rough. Especially a game when you had such a big lead,” Rivers said.
“Certainly, it’s not the way I, and we, wanted to perform.”
Editing by John O'Brien