Sproles Produces 328 Yards, Two Touchdowns in Colts Loss to Chargers
SAN DIEGO, Cal. – Bob Sanders wasn't surprised.
The way the Colts' two-time Pro Bowl safety saw it, San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles on Saturday did what he has done much of the season.
He played in place of All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
He made big plays when the Chargers needed it.
And he got the Chargers to the next round of the postseason.
Sproles, a third-year veteran from Kansas State University, on Saturday night produced 328 total yards and scored two touchdowns, with the second being the game-winner in a 23-17 overtime victory over the San Diego Chargers an AFC Wild Card Playoff Game at Qualcomm Stadium
"He's a great player," Sanders said after the Chargers ended the Colts' season for a second consecutive season. "He makes a lot of plays for them. LaDainian started the game, but he wasn't able to make it and they needed a guy to step up.
"He's been one of those guys this year, all year, making great plays. He did it again."
Sproles rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, and caught nine passes for 45 yards. His nine-yard run gave the Chargers a 14-10 halftime lead and his 22-yarder in overtime gave San Diego the victory.
"Sproles is a tough guy," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "He makes things happen. We missed him a few times in the open field and he did a great job. They played without LaDainian for most of the game and you have to give them credit. That's what good teams do. Other guys step up and fill in."
Sproles also returned three punts for 72 yards and four kickoffs for 106 yards.
SACK ATTACK: Throughout the week, the Colts said an emphasis – and a key to beating the Chargers – would be pressuring quarterback Philip Rivers.
Throughout their first-round playoff loss, the Colts did just that.
Robert Mathis, who had 11.5 sacks this season and was named to his first Pro Bowl, sacked Rivers to end the Chargers' first possession, and finished the game with two sacks.
Midway through the second quarter, defensive end Dwight Freeney – who had 10.5 sacks and was named to his fourth Pro Bowl this season – had a second crucial sack of Rivers. The sack came on 2nd-and-9 from the Chargers 30, and after a short pass on the next play, the Chargers punted.
Freeney also finished the game with two sacks.
HEADS UP: Of the Colts' biggest plays in the game came in the third quarter when quarterback Peyton Manning caught the Chargers' defense unprepared.
On 3rd-and-5 from Colts 28, with Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie walking toward the sideline to cover Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Manning received quick snap from center.
Wayne, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, raced by Cromartie, caught the long pass from Manning and scored on a 72-yard touchdown pass to give the Colts a lead they lost late in the second half.
"They were trying to disguise and get into some things and get into a lot of different defenses," Dungy said. "We have a play where we can just go up and snap the ball. We did, and we got Reggie open and got the lead. It was a big momentum-changer."
Said Manning, "That's a play we've run throughout the years. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, it doesn't. It certainly caught them at the right time and Reggie did a good job getting into the end zone."
GAME TO REMEMBER: The Colts expected special teams to play a huge role in the first round of the playoffs.
They did, and no one played a more crucial role than Chargers punter Mike Scifres.
Scifres punted six times for an average of 52.7 yards and all six of his punts pinned the Colts inside their 20. Late in the game, his 52-yard punt pinned the Colts at their 1, and when the Colts couldn't produce a first down, San Diego drove 30 yards for the game-tying field goal.
"I thought Scifres did an incredible job," Dungy said. "He was the difference in the game. We thought we had to get an even game special teams-wise. He just punted us in the hole all night long. That field position was a big difference."
TURNAROUND TIME: A year ago, when the Chargers beat the Colts, 28-24, in an AFC Divisional Playoff, a key play occurred when Chargers safety Eric Weddle intercepted a pass at the San Diego 2 early in the fourth quarter. The interception came after a pass bounced off the hands of Indianapolis reserve running back Kenton Keith.
A similar play favored the Colts on Saturday night.
With Indianapolis leading, 17-14, late in the third quarter, Chargers running back Darren Sproles caught a screen pass and ran to the Colts 2, where Colts cornerback Tim Jennings stripped him of the ball. The ball rolled into the end zone, where Colts defensive end Raheem Brock recovered.
BRACKETT, POLLAK OUT: As expected, the Colts were without two starters Saturday night –their starting middle linebacker and defensive captain, and a starting offensive lineman.
Gary Brackett, the Colts' starting middle linebacker, was declared inactive shortly before kickoff. Mike Pollak, the starting right guard in the last 13 games of the season, also was declared inactive.
Brackett missed the last four games of the regular season with a fibula injury while Pollak sustained an ankle injury in the Colts' regular-season finale.
The Colts' other game-day inactives:
Running back Lance Ball, safety Jamie Silva, offensive guard Jamey Richard, wide receiver Pierre Garcon, defensive tackle Daniel Muir and defensive end Curtis Johnson.
KEIAHO IN THE MIDDLE: With Brackett out, veteran linebacker Freddy Keiaho moved from weakside linebacker – where he started 14 games this season – to the middle. Veteran Tyjuan Hagler moved into the starting lineup to replace Keiaho on the weak side.
With Pollak and Richard out, veteran guard Dan Federkeil started at right guard.
TOUDOUZE SIGNED: The Colts waived veteran running back Najeh Davenand signed offensive tackle Michael Toudouze from the practice squad.
HAYDEN INJURED: Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden sustained a second-quarter hip injury, and returned.
Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez left in the third quarter with a hip injury and returned.
HOW THEY SCORED
COLTS 07 03 07 00 00 – 17
CHARGERS 00 14 00 03 06 – 23
COLTS 7, CHARGERS 0
Joseph Addai 1 run (Adam Vinatieri kick), 2:59 remaining first quarter. Drive: Nine plays, 81 yards, 5:02. Key play: Anthony Gonzalez 36 pass from Peyton Manning on 1st-and-10 from Colts 45.
COLTS 7, CHARGERS 7
LaDainian Tomlinson 3 run (Nate Kaeding kick), 10:15 remaining second quarter. Drive: Four plays, 44 yards, 2:18. Key play: Antonio Gates 30 pass from Philip Rivers on 1st-and-10 from Colts 33.
COLTS 10, CHARGERS 7
Adam Vinatieri 43 FG, 6:46 remaining second quarter. Drive: Eight plays, 42 yards, 3:29. Key play: Gonzalez 20 pass from Manning on 1st-and-10 from Colts 33.
CHARGERS 14, COLTS 10
Darren Sproles 9 run (Kaeding kick), :47 remaining second quarter. Drive: Six plays, 45 yards, 2:19 Key play: Chris Chambers 11 pass from Rivers on 3rd-and-9 from Colts 20.
COLTS 17, CHARGERS 14
Reggie Wayne 72 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 8:10 remaining third quarter. Drive: Five plays, 91 yards, 1:32. Key play: Addai 5 run on 2nd-and-1 from Colts 18.
COLTS 17, CHARGERS 17
Kaeding 26 FG, :31 remaining fourth quarter. Drive: Seven plays, 30 yards, 1:17. Key play: Sproles 26 punt return to Colts 38.
COLTS 23, CHARGERS 17
Sproles 22 run, 8:40 remaining overtime || . Drive: 11 plays, 75 yards, 6:20. Key play: Holding penalty against Colts cornerback Tim Jennings turns 3rd-and-8 incomplete pass into 1st-and-10 at Colts 35.