DENVER (AP) How so much can change in such little time.
The Broncos and Chargers aren't exactly the same teams that met in San Diego on Oct. 13 when Denver's 15-game divisional road winning streak skidded to a halt in a 21-13 loss that snapped the Chargers out of a 10-game AFC West funk.
Following with a win at Atlanta, the Chargers (3-4) have gone from stagger to swagger, saving coach Mike McCoy's hide and earning the chance to make the season's second half much more meaningful.
''We've won two in a row but this is what we expected, what we should have done in some of those earlier games,'' Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. ''We should be sitting here with a different record, but we're not. This one right here can really get us right back in the thick of it.''
The Broncos (5-2) also are a very different team than the one that stumbled into San Diego under interim coach Joe DeCamillis, got off to a slow start and never recovered.
Gary Kubiak is back on the sideline after missing that game under doctor's orders following a complex migraine. And quarterback Trevor Siemian isn't nearly as compromised from his sprained left shoulder that did as much to keep him from throwing downfield as the Chargers' cover-2 schemes.
But the Broncos will be without running back C.J. Anderson , who underwent right knee surgery Thursday, 72 hours after his best game of the season, a 107-yard effort that helped the Broncos beat Houston 27-9 Monday night.
Instead, they'll hand off to rookie Devontae Booker and third-year pro Kapri Bibbs, who has four carries in eight career games - not exactly the 1-2 punch they were so excited about when they rumbled over the Texans.
''Whenever players get hurt it's unfortunate, but that's part of the league,'' Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. ''I feel like everybody has to battle some type of injury throughout their career and overcome it, and C.J., he'll do that. He'll be right back for us. And what injury does is it gives opportunity for guys to go out and start their legacy.''
The Broncos felt really good about their 190 yards rushing against the Texans, but now they don't have that 1-2 punch. Or do they?
''Book is ready to play; I'm ready to play,'' Bibbs said. ''And I don't think there's going to be any drop-off. I think we're going to go in there and we're going to handle our business.''
That's something the Broncos as a whole didn't do in San Diego earlier this month.
Other subplots when the teams meet Sunday:
BOSA BOOM: Rookie Joey Bosa has played in only three games but has four sacks, including takedowns on consecutive drives last week in Atlanta. Bosa is the first NFL player since Elvis Dumervil in 2006 to have two multi-sack games in his first three games. He is the only player in Chargers history to accomplish that feat. Bosa missed all of training camp in a contract spat and then injured a hamstring, costing him the first four games.
MEN IN THE MIDDLE: In a nod to Denver's star-studded secondary, the Chargers isolated tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry on Denver's inside LBs Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis last time, similar to what the Falcons had done with running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Broncos realized they had to mix some zone looks in their man-heavy coverage. Corey Nelson will likely get tested with Marshall dealing with a pulled left hamstring.
CHASING RIVERS: Miller, who has 7+ sacks, is excited at the prospect of DeMarcus Ware (broken forearm Sept. 18), returning to the field this weekend. ''It's like having the Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi,'' Miller said, praising Ware's wisdom and poise. ''He's just always calm no matter what the situation. He always has great advice, he always knows the direction to go, and he has the vision.''
MELVIN METAMORPHOSIS: Chargers RB Melvin Gordon, who didn't score as a rookie last year, leads the league with 10 TDs, eight rushing and two catching. ''He's got 10 more touchdowns than he did last year,'' Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips deadpanned when asked what was the difference. ''No, he was a good back last year. He was a rookie. I think they certainly realized how to use him and he's come on and gotten better and better.''
BOLSTERED BRONCOS: Denver acquired a tight end just before the trade deadline for the second straight season. Last year, it was veteran Vernon Davis from the Niners. This time, the Broncos got greenhorn A.J. Derby from the Patriots. Playing behind Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, Derby had no catches this season. But his preseason production - 15 receptions for 189 yards, a TD - is roughly what the Broncos' other tight ends have managed so far.
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