Colts Lose to San Diego in Overtime in First Round of Playoffs
INDIANAPOLIS – Suddenly, it was over.
And as Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy saw it, the reason for the Colts' earliest exit from the postseason in six seasons wasn't a mystery.
Dungy, who a little more than a week after the season would decide to retire after seven seasons with the Colts, said a loss in the first round of the AFC playoffs to the San Diego Chargers came about for a simple and obvious reason.
When it came time to make big plays, the Chargers did and the Colts didn't.
"That part was disappointing, that we didn't play with a little better poise down the stretch," Dungy said a day after the Colts' 23-17 overtime loss to the Chargers in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Cal., on Saturday, January 3.
"We didn't do the things that needed to be done to close out the game."
The loss marked the second time in as many seasons the Colts lost to the Chargers in the postseason. A year earlier, the Chargers beat the Colts, 28-24, in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game in the final game played at the RCA Dome.
In this past season's meeting, the Colts – who won their last nine regular-season games to qualify for the playoffs for a seventh consecutive year – took leads of 7-0, 10-7 and 17-14 before the Chargers rallied in the fourth quarter.
Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding kicked a 26-yard field goal with :31 remaining in regulation, then running back Darren Sproles' 22-yard touchdown run 6:20 into overtime gave San Diego the victory.
"You probably want to give me a few weeks before I start looking back on the season and what I'm going to take away," Colts center Jeff Saturday said the next day. "Right now, I don't take away a whole lot. Obviously losing to an 8-8 team out there is frustrating. We didn't do what we had to get done."
Said Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden, "Unfortunately, things didn't go our way. It's a tough deal, but it's part of it. There's a lesson learned behind everything, that if you don't get the job done this is what happens.
"We didn't get the job done, but at the same time, a new year will come upon us and hopefully, we can get the job done then."
Dungy, in what would be his final address to the team, spoke to the players a day afterward.
"I just talked about the way we feel today," Dungy said. "It's funny, but no matter when you lose in the playoffs, you always feel terrible. You feel worse than teams that were 4-12 and won their last game. That's good and that's one of the reasons you're in the playoffs, is you have a lot of guys who feel that way. We've got to use that feeling to build on next year and to use that as incentive in the offseason, to come back to work and get a little bit better.
"I told them we're not going to make wholesale changes. We don't think there are things that need to be fixed about the team. We just need to continue to improve. Most of our improvement will be made by the guys who are on the team now. Them getting better is how we'll improve.
"That's what we have to focus in on. They'll get a couple of months off, then come back in March to start doing that."
A detailed look at the Colts' playoff game against San Diego:
AFC WILD CARD PLAYOFF: SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 23, INDIANAPOLIS 17
All season, they won in difficult circumstances, with clutch second-half efforts. All season, they did it in hostile venues. All season, they scrapped and clawed. All season, they grinded.
They grinded again in the first round of the postseason.
It just wasn't enough.
The Colts, who rallied from second-half, double-digit road deficits to win four times in the regular season, rallied again on the night of Saturday, January 3, and if the deficit weren't as overwhelming, the task was no less formidable, the result no less imant.
The Colts (12-5), after winning their final nine regular-season games to make the playoffs, overcame a four-point halftime deficit before losing a late lead in a 23-17 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers (9-8) in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game in front of 68,082 at Qualcomm Stadium.
"Obviously, a disappointed group in our locker room," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "We played hard – very hard – but we didn't play well enough to win. . . . San Diego played great. They have a lot of talent."
Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding tied it with a 26-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, then – after the Chargers won the overtime coin flip – Chargers running back Darren Sproles won it with a 22-yard run 6:20 into overtime.
"It's disappointing to lose a playoff game, especially a game you had some chances to win," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who completed 25 of 42 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. "The Chargers made the plays when it counted. Give them credit. It's obviously a disappointing loss. . . .
"We knew it was going to be a tough game, a close game. We've been winning those fourth-quarter games. Today, the Chargers just did a better job executing."
The Colts, after trailing 14-10 at halftime, took the lead on a 72-yard third-quarter touchdown pass from Manning to wide receiver Reggie Wayne, then preserved the lead for more than 20 tight, field position-oriented minutes with a series of turnovers and defensive stands:
• With 2:05 remaining in the third quarter, Sproles caught a screen pass and ran to the Colts 2, where cornerback Tim Jennings stripped him of the ball. The ball rolled into the end zone, where Colts defensive end Raheem Brock recovered.
• With just over 12 minutes remaining, safety Antoine Bethea intercepted a pass from quarterback Philip Rivers from the Colts 32 in the end zone.
• With just under three minutes remaining, defensive end Robert Mathis registered his second sack of the game – and the Colts' fourth – to stop a Chargers drive at the San Diego 47.
But the Chargers, who won their last four regular-season games to become the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting 4-8, turned in a huge defensive stand late in the fourth quarter to set up Kaeding's game-tying field goal.
"We were right there in the fourth quarter, which we said it was going to come down to," Dungy said. "We had a chance to close out the game. We had to make one first down, and we didn't make it. . . . I know our offense is disappointed. When we've got the ball and we have to make a first down to ice the game, we weren't able to do it.
"They're a good team. They've had great records out here. We've had great records. We've played them and every game has been like this, where it's a fourth-quarter play to win the game. They made it today. They made the plays to win it."
The Colts, who moved effectively on their two first-quarter possessions, took a 7-0 lead with an efficient touchdown drive on their second possession.
Manning, the Colts' 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback, led a nine-play, 81-yard drive on the Colts' second possession, which ended with a 1-yard run by running back Joseph Addai. The Chargers tied the game, 7-7, on a 3-yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson, a play that capped a four-play, 44-yard drive.
The Colts immediately retook the lead, driving 42 yards in eight plays with kicker Adam Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal making it 10-7, Colts. The teams exchanged punts before the Chargers took possession at the Colts 45 with 3:01 remaining in the half. San Diego then drove 45 yards on six plays with Sproles' nine-yard run giving the Chargers a 14-10 halftime lead.
"That's the thing about the playoffs," Dungy said. "Everybody starts even and going on the road is tough in the playoffs. We played hard and we came within a couple of plays of winning the game, but in the end, you have to win them. We didn't win today. . . . They had a lot of games like this. They won them in December."
Turning point: The Colts never had possession in overtime, with the Chargers taking the kickoff and driving 75 yards on 11 plays. Indianapolis was penalized three times for 25 yards on the drive, including a holding penalty against cornerback Tim Jennings that turned an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-8 from the Indianapolis 40 into a first down at the 35. "We gave them some third-down conversions, and then the penalties on the last drive – I'll have to see them to see what it looked like there," Dungy said. "Defensive holding is not something we get called a lot on, but that was a big, big play." Said Jennings, "They got the penalty call. They got the call and we didn't. It was kind of tough."
Moment to remember: The Colts had a chance to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter, but couldn't convert a first down. The Colts took possession at their 1 with 2:41 remaining. With the Colts facing 3rd-and-2 from the Indianapolis 9, Chargers linebacker Tim Dobbins sacked Manning at the Indianapolis 1. "We had chances to put the game away and just didn't do it," Manning said. Said Dungy, "We were trying to make a first down. We knew if we make one first down the game's over. We had a quick pass on and didn't get it off. We wanted to put the ball in the hands of our quarterback." After a 63-yard punt by Colts punter Hunter Smith just after the two-minute warning, Sproles returned it 26 yards to the Colts 38. Seven plays later, Kaeding's 26-yard field goal made it, 17-17, forcing overtime. "We just kind of fell apart at the end," Brock said. "It was just little things. We just fell apart at the end."
Note: For the Colts, it was their earliest exit from the postseason since 2002, Dungy's first season. They had made the AFC Divisional Playoff round five consecutive seasons. "Obviously, when you begin the season when you play for this team, you have Super Bowl aspirations," said Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had two sacks against San Diego. "When you can't get to that game, I don't care how it happens, it's disappointing."
Quote to note: "It was disappointing. I was proud of the guys, how hard they played. We'll just have to come back next year, work to get to this point then play a little bit better." --- Dungy