Pagano is from Colorado. His father, Sam, a longtime high school coach in Boulder, watched from the sideline.
When rookie coach Mike McCoy awarded game balls in the locker room after the 27-20 victory, the first one went to Pagano for coming up with a scheme that made the Broncos' high-scoring offense look average and kept the Chargers in the playoff picture.
"It's something that as a kid you dream about," Pagano said Friday. "Me being from Colorado, to be in that stadium, to have my dad down there to watch, the guys played with that unbelievable effort, it's amazing. It's pretty special. It's an awesome game and we love being part of it."
Pagano said his father is always there when the Chargers visit the Broncos. He usually visits the sideline and then watches most of the game from the press box. Thursday night, he was on the sideline the whole game.
Pagano, the younger brother of Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, got emotional talking about being with his dad. Chuck and John both played for their father at Fairview High.
"I was trying to talk to players by the heater and I think I had to push him out of the way one time," Pagano said. "It's just one of those moments that is unbelievable to see. He got my brother and I into this profession. It is a very special moment and to see him down there is an honor. To be able to hug him after something like that is a very special moment."
Pagano also tripped and fell while celebrating a big play.
"It probably wasn't my most athletic move. But it gets rough down there," he said. "I'll probably be getting a call from the Broncos grounds crew to fix that spot but it's all good. I'm always excited."
The victory kept the Chargers (7-7) alive in the playoff race, although they'll need to win out and get some big help elsewhere. They finish with home games against Oakland and Kansas City.
Pagano said the Chargers' plan was "to disrupt and disguise and take away certain guys that we needed to take away. We did all those things and executed it. We still had mental errors but they weren't bad. ...The guys were playing off of one another.
"They gave us some looks that did things different. We called everything that was on that call sheet. We emptied it out and guys had to adjust to their multiple formations. The communication was unbelievable. There was nobody coming to the sidelines saying, 'I didn't get the call.' ''
Manning looked average and threw a late interception that sealed the victory. San Diego held Denver to just 18 yards rushing.
Chuck Pagano's Colts handed the Broncos their first loss this season, and younger brother John had a big hand in dealing them their third loss.
The Pagano brothers talked by phone afterward.
"Yes, he was very excited," John Pagano said. "I'm his No. 1 fan and I know he is mine. Being able to talk to him and go over the things that we talk about that are so special. Like I said, to have someone else in your profession that is a family member to talk things over with is unbelievable.
"He probably gives me more advice and words of wisdom than any person in my life. I am proud of what he has done and what he has accomplished. It is always good to talk to family. We usually don't talk if we lose, so it's always good to win because then we communicate more. If we both lose then there is no communication."
McCoy, who was Denver's offensive coordinator the previous four seasons, said the most impressive thing about the win was the way the defense played.
"That is a very good offense," McCoy said. "It's one of the best in the history of football through 13 weeks and then 14 weeks now. They are very explosive. They are very efficient. We all know who Peyton Manning is.
"He is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The game plan that John Pagano put together and the way the players executed it is out of this world. To have 18 yards rushing against a very efficient football team that runs the football, that exposes you on certain things. It was a great effort."
Pagano said the short week helped in that it prevented a lot of overanalyzing.
"The preparation was the same," he said. "It was like we were at an auction—it was going fast."
Ryan Mathews had 127 yards on 29 carries—giving him 230 yards on 58 carries in five days. Rookie Keenan Allen had another big game, catching touchdown passes of 19 and 10 yards.
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