I think it is safe to assume the following: that the Indianapolis Colts will not repeat as Super Bowl Champions, and that the San Diego Chargers are a team that the New England Patriots better take very, very seriously. Even without running back LaDanian Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers plus some stout pass rushing, the Chargers managed to find their way into the win column Sunday, upsetting the Colts 28-24 in the last game to be played at the RCA Dome.
The first series by Indianapolis was what you’d expect from quarterback Peyton Manning, with short passes to wide receiver Reggie Wayne and running back Joseph Addai, capped by a 25- yard touchdown pass from Manning to tight end Dallas Clark, making it 7-0 Indianapolis. A 14-yard TD pass from the Chargers’ Rivers to WR Vincent Jackson would knot the score at 7 at the 8:38 mark of the first half; the Colts would regain the lead on kicker Adam Vinatieri’s 47-yard field goal.
In the final seconds of the first half, Manning would throw an interception that appeared to be returned for a score by San Diego cornerback Warren Cromartie; however, a flag negated that opportunity as a holding call against the Chargers’ Eric Weddle wiped out the touchdown. Chargers head coach Norv Turner, as expected, was not pleased with the call as it seemed that Weddle made a simple push. Indianapolis went into halftime holding a tenuous 10-7 lead.
San Diego’s Rivers found WR Chris Chambers for a 30-yard score, giving the Chargers a 14-10 lead to open the second half. But the Colts would come back with a Manning-to-Wayne 9-yard TD pass that was initially ruled out of bounds; Indianapolis would challenge the call and the call was reversed, giving Wayne the touchdown, giving the Colts a 17-14 lead. San Diego’s Rivers would come back with a TD pass of his own, a 56-yard toss-and-run to Darren Sproles, giving the Chargers a 21-17 lead. The score proved costly as Rivers injured his right knee on the play; he would be replaced by reserve QB Billy Volek.
Manning and Co. would rally back with a 55-yard TD pass from Manning to WR Anthony Gonzalez, giving the Colts a slim 24-21 edge with 10:07 left to go in the game; however, San Diego’s Volek would go on a 5 minute driver that would be capped by a Volek 1-yard QB sneak, giving what would be the winning advantage to the Chargers. Rivers, despite leaving in the third period, had a decent outing, going 14-of-19 for 264 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception while the aforementioned Volek was 3-of-4 for 48 yards with a rushing TD. Running back Michael Turner led a somewhat average Chargers running attack with 71 yards on 17 carries; Jackson led all Chargers receivers with 7 grabs for 93 yards and a TD, while Chambers caught 3 passes for 67 yards and a score; Sproles caught only one pass for 56 yards, but for a score.
Manning, despite the final outcome, had a very good game in his own right. He went 33-of-48 for 402 yards with 3 TD’s and 2 INT’s; but to be fair, both picks were tipped by Colts’ receivers. RB Joseph Addai had 110 yards of total offense – only 43 on the ground while catching 9 passes for 67 yards. Clark would lead all Indianapolis receivers with 6 receptions for 95 yards and a TD; Gonzalez would catch 4 passes for 79 and a score, while Wayne caught 7 balls for 76 yards and a TD.
While the Colts are eliminated from further postseason action, San Diego moves on to New England to face the 17-0 Patriots next weekend. The Chargers have some issues to address between now and then – how costly is the loss of Tomlinson and Rivers’ knee injury going to be for the team? The Colts have some issues of their own: will head coach Tony Dungy return for another season? The rumors have it that he may retire after this season; but like last season, Dungy will talk it over with his wife then make a decision. But Colts team owner Jim Irsay has a sense of urgency in keeping Dungy aboard for next season and beyond. This postseason, as opposed to postseasons past will definitely bear watching as it may change the future of the Colts.