SAN DIEGO — John Fox sent text messages to several Denver Broncos on Sunday morning, wishing them good luck against the San Diego Chargers.
The Broncos will reciprocate by giving a game ball to their coach, who’s at his offseason home in Charlotte, N.C., recovering from heart surgery.
With interim coach Jack Del Rio in charge, Peyton Manning threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns, three to Demaryius Thomas, as he efficiently led the Broncos to a 28-20 victory in their first game since Fox had his aortic valve replaced last Monday. Fox was released Friday and will continue his recovery at his offseason home.
“We look forward to giving it to him in person,” Manning said.
Manning said he spoke with Fox by phone on Saturday before the Broncos flew to San Diego.
“I told him not to be yelling at me during the game. It’s not good for his blood pressure,” Manning said. “I’m not sure we’ll see if he did or didn’t. But he was in our thoughts. Coach Del Rio has done a good job all week keeping us updated on coach Fox.”
Fox planned to watch the game on TV there, a team spokesman said. If he watched, he probably didn’t like seeing Manning hurting his right ankle when he was hit by Corey Liuget as the Broncos ran out the clock in the closing minutes. Manning stayed in the game.
Manning wouldn’t be specific about his injury, but said he was “pretty sore” and that he planned to have an MRI on Monday.
Manning was hurt after completing a pass to Thomas with 1:44 left.
“We were playing aggressively to win the game right there,” Del Rio said. “He made a throw, D.T. made a catch and that was the ballgame. He got up and didn’t want to come off — very proud guy — and closed out the game for us.”
Asked about playing in the Broncos’ showdown with AFC West leader Kansas City (9-0) next Sunday night, Manning said: “I totally plan on it.”
Manning kept the Broncos (8-1) rolling. He threw touchdown passes of 11, 7 and 34 yards to Thomas on consecutive drives spanning the second and third quarters, staking the Broncos to a 28-6 lead.
Julius Thomas had a 74-yard catch-and-run on Denver’s first drive, turning a short pass into the second-longest play by a tight end in team history.
Liuget said it wasn’t an intentional hit. “I was trying to get to him because I knew how critical it could be to us as a defense to get to him. I was just working it and trying to be the guy. I’m not sure how I caught him but I hope he is OK. It’s not anything that is going to stop him from being Peyton Manning.”
The Broncos’ scoring drives lasted 57 seconds; 2 minutes, 27 seconds, 1:25, and 3:26.
“You knew it wasn’t going to be many possessions and we had to be efficient when we had the ball,” Manning said.
Manning has thrown for 3,249 yards and 33 touchdowns in nine games. He completed 25 of 36 passes against the Chargers.
The Chargers (4-5) closed the gap late in the second half but couldn’t catch up.
The Chargers were inside the Denver 23 three times in their first four possessions and had to settle for field goals of 26 and 40 yards by Nick Novak. Novak was wide left on a 37-yard attempt with 1:38 left before halftime.
“Three opportunities, you get six points and they score 28,” said Chargers rookie coach Mike McCoy, who was Denver’s offensive coordinator the past four seasons. “As you go along that is critical. When you play Peyton you have to get touchdowns. We’ve just got to do a better job.”
Manning’s big afternoon was marred only when rookie linebacker Tourek Williams hit Manning from behind and knocked the ball loose, with Donald Butler recovering at the Denver 11 midway through the third quarter. Two plays later, Philip Rivers found Danny Woodhead for a 7-yard scoring pass.
The Chargers pulled to 28-20 on Ryan Mathews’ 1-yard touchdown run on third down with 10:42 to play.
A week earlier, the Chargers had the ball first-and-goal from the Washington 1 before Woodhead was stuffed and Rivers threw two incompletions before settling for a field goal to force overtime. The Redskins won 30-24.
Novak’s miss late in the second quarter gave Manning enough time to move the Broncos 73 yards in nine plays, all passes, capped by his 7-yard scoring throw to Demaryius Thomas for a 21-6 lead before halftime. Manning threw only one incompletion that drive.
The Broncos got the opening kickoff of the second half and went 78 yards in eight plays, with Thomas’ 34-yard TD catch giving the Broncos a 28-6 lead.
“So it’s a 14-point swing — the difference in the ballgame,” Manning said.
The Chargers finished the game without left tackle King Dunlap, who sustained his third concussion this season, and center Nick Hardwick, who had a stinger. Rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker moved to left tackle.
Rivers completed 19 of 29 passes for 218 yards.
NOTES: The Broncos have scored 371 points, the most through the first nine games of a season in NFL history. The previous high of 358 was by the 1950 Los Angeles Rams. …Broncos LB Nate Irving injured a shoulder. … The Chargers said LT King Dunlap had a concussion, his third this season. Other Chargers injured were C Nick Hardwick (stinger), LB Larry English (bicep) and fullback Le’Ron McClain (ankle). … It was the 300th win under Broncos owner and CEO Pat Bowlen.