A MEANINGFUL VICTORY

Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said what mattered most in a 23-20 victory over San Diego Sunday wasn't mistakes, but the bigger picture. He said the bigger picture was the Colts found a way to win an emotional game, and to continue a winning streak that has solidified the team's playoff positioning.

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Victory over San Diego More Emotional Than Artistic, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Dungy didn't like everything he saw.

Dungy, the Colts' seventh-year head coach, said when reviewing the tape from a crucial, dramatic victory in San Diego Sunday night, there were a few things – many of them attributed to the Chargers – about which to be concerned.

The defense gave up a few too many big plays.

There were a few too many mistakes.

And at times, the Colts didn't keep their poise as much as he would like.

But Dungy said mattered most wasn't the mistakes, but the bigger picture of what happened on Sunday in Qualcomm Stadium, because what happened was the Colts found a way to win, and to continue a recent winning streak that has significantly solidified the team's playoff positioning.

"It was obviously a big win for us," Dungy said Monday, a day after the Colts beat the San Diego Chargers, 23-20, on a 51-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri with no time remaining.

The Colts (7-4), who lost back-to-back road games by double digits in late October, are 4-0 in November with victories at home against 7-4 New England (18-15) and 4-7 Houston (33-27) and at 8-3 Pittsburgh and 4-7 San Diego.

The road victories, Dungy said, were particularly significant.

Against the Steelers, the Colts became the first road team in five years to overcome a 10-point deficit to win in Pittsburgh, and against the Chargers, the Colts rallied from a seven-point deficit to win against a team that had won 18 of its previous 20 home games.

The Chargers also had won three consecutive games against Indianapolis, including a regular-season and a postseason game last year.

"To go into Pittsburgh and San Diego on the road, and get wins in those places, it's very, very meaningful," Dungy said Monday afternoon during his weekly next-day news conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "Looking at the game, it probably wasn't as artistic as it was emotional. There were some things we could have done better. They put a lot of pressure on you to keep your poise.

"I don't know that we did that great on defense, but we made enough plays, especially in our red zone, to keep them out of the end zone enough to get that win. All in all, it was a good team win and a good win on the road. It sets us up for another road game this week.

"I think our guys are feeling good about how we're playing right now."

The Colts, after trailing 10-3 in the first half, scored a late second-quarter touchdown and the first 10 points of the second half to take a 20-10 lead before San Diego rallied to tie it, 20-20, with 1:30 remaining.

The Colts then drove from their 30 to their 48, where they faced 3rd-and-5 with :41 remaining. At that point, eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning threw to eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who made a leaping reception for what officials initially ruled a 5-yard gain.

After review, officials ruled it a four-yard gain an inch short of the first down, a ruling that set up 4th-and-1 from the Chargers 48 with :26 remaining.

The same officiating crew – a unit led by referee Gene Steratore – had made a similar ruling in the fourth quarter of San Diego's 23-21 victory over the Colts last season, overturning a spot on the field reverse a Colts first down.

"We talked a little bit before the game with those guys about how strange that was, changing a fourth-down play," Dungy said. "This time, I think we all kept our composure a little bit better. The last time, I never anticipated they would change the spot.

"(On Sunday) we had a chance to talk about it. We said, 'Hey, if it's first down, we're going to kill the ball right away and have three downs to see if we can get it in field-goal range.' Then, we said, 'What if it's fourth down? What if they move it back?'

"We felt like we could just leave them with one play. Even if we didn't make it, we wouldn't leave them with enough time to move the ball. We kind of talked about the play we wanted, and we'd let the clock run down a little bit. I don't believe they started the clock, really, when he (the official) wound it, when it was ready for play. We assumed there would be just four or five seconds left when we finished."

Instead, a 14-yard, fourth-down pass from Manning to Harrison gave the Colts a 1st-and-10 at the San Diego 34 with :14 remaining. The Colts used their final time out, then after a 1-yard run by running back Joseph Addai, Manning spiked the ball to stop the clock with :02 remaining.

After a Chargers timeout, Vinatieri made his second game-winning field goal from more than 50 yards in the past four games.

"I thought the whole group made a good decision and we executed it well," Dungy said.

The Colts, after a six-game stretch in which they played five playoff teams from a year ago – at Green Bay, at Tennessee, at Pittsburgh, at San Diego and home against New England – and another that finished .500 (Houston), now will play at Cleveland (4-7) before home games against Cincinnati (1-9-1) and Detroit (0-11).

The Colts will visit Cleveland at Cleveland Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.

"One of the things I try not to do is read too much into the teams you're playing, what their records are and what the perception of them is," Dungy said. "The schedule comes out and in May and June people say, 'Oh, they should win these. This should be a tough stretch.' You really never know. You can't assume, 'Well, Pittsburgh's going to be tough and San Diego's going to be tough, but Cleveland isn't.' Cleveland is the only team that has beaten the Giants all year.

"They have played well in some Monday night games. They have been up and down a little bit, but certainly if we think they're not going to play well we're going to be surprised. That's going to be our MO – trying to get better and trying to improve and trying to play a better game this week than we played against San Diego."

With the victory over San Diego, the Colts maintained the fifth seed in the AFC, holding that spot over Baltimore (7-4) and New England (7-4) because of a superior conference record and because of head-to-head victories over each team.

Tennessee (10-1), Pittsburgh (8-3) and the New York Jets (8-3) lead the AFC South, North and East, respectively, with Denver (6-5) leading the West. There are currently nine teams in the AFC with records of 6-5 or better, with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins also at 6-5 in the East.

Six teams make the playoffs from each conference – the champions of the four divisions and the two teams with the best records among non-division winners.

The Colts, the five-time defending division champions, on Sunday moved a game close to AFC South-leading Tennessee (10-1), which lost for the first time this season, 34-13, to the New York Jets. Indianapolis will play host to Tennessee in the regular-season finale.

"I always said after left there (after a 31-21 loss in Tennessee on October 27) that we couldn't win the division," Dungy said. "We probably still won't, but what we have to do is make them continue to play, so we've got to keep winning so they have to keep winning. We'll see what happens."

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