ELITE MATCH-UP

The Colts and Chargers have played six times since 2004, with playoff positioning at stake more often than not. 'It's two good teams going against each other - that's what it is,' Colts safety Antoine Bethea says.

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Colts, Chargers Has Developed into Premier Match-Up in Recent Seasons
INDIANAPOLIS – The series has turned memorable in recent years – real memorable.

And Antoine Bethea has a good idea why.

Bethea, the Colts' two-time Pro Bowl safety, said the team's nearly-annual match-up with the San Diego Chargers has become one of the NFL's best non-divisional rivalries, and the reason is simpler than you might think.

Each team usually has talent. Each team's record usually reflects it.

And as a result, each team is usually in or contending for the post-season.

"It's two good teams going against each other – that's what it is," Bethea said as the Colts (6-4) prepared to play the San Diego Chargers (5-5) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 8:20 p.m.

"When two good teams go against each other, you never know what can happen. You can kind of say they have our number right now, but we just have to go out, play ball, and play our 'A' game.

"We just have to do what we do."

The Chargers since 2004 have shared the Colts' status as one of the AFC's elite teams and a perennial post-season contender, and during that time, they have had more success against the Colts than any of the AFC's stronger teams of the period.

The Colts and New England Patriots since 2003 have played 11 times, with the Patriots winning six times and the Colts winning five. The Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers during the same time have played three times, with the Colts winning twice and the Steelers winning once. The Colts and Ravens have played seven times and the Colts have won all seven meetings.

The Colts and Chargers?

They have played six times since the Chargers emerged as a perennial contender in 2004.

The Chargers have won four times, including post-season victories following the 2007 and 2008 season, and a 26-17 victory in 2005 that ended Indianapolis' 13-game season-opening winning streak.

"It's probably been a little more one-sided to tell you the truth," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who set a then NFL record with his 49th regular-season touchdown pass in a 34-31 overtime victory over the Chargers at the RCA Dome in December 2004.

"They have won a majority of the games, as of recent. . . . They've been an excellent team every year. They've been a contender in the AFC every year."

That's true again this season.

The Chargers, who have won at least four consecutive games to end the last four regular seasons en route to AFC West titles, began this season 2-5, but have won their last three games against Tennessee, Houston and Denver to move to within a game of first place in the division.

The Colts, who have won six of the past seven AFC South titles, lost their regular-season opener, but have overcome a slew of injuries to win six of nine games since. Playing without starters such as linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session and running back Joseph Addai, the Colts rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit this past Sunday before losing to AFC East-leading New England, 31-28.

The Colts enter the weekend tied for first with Jacksonville in the AFC South, a game ahead of Tennessee (5-5) and two games ahead of Houston (4-6), a team that beat the Colts, 34-24, in the regular season opener.

The opener was played at Reliant Stadium in Houston, and thus far this season, all four of the Colts' losses have come on the road. They lost 31-28 at Jacksonville in Week 3, 26-24 to Philadelphia in early October and by three points to New England this past week.

"We've certainly played better at home than we have on the road so far to date," Manning said. "That's a good and a bad thing. We need to try and get the road thing fixed, but hopefully we can continue to win at home. (We're playing) probably one of the hottest teams, playing with a lot of momentum right now, coming off a little winning streak here. This is definitely one of our toughest tests to date here at home."

Manning said the reality is venue has less to do with the season's results than execution.

"I'm sure you can look at each game and certain reasons or whatever that we've lost the game," Manning said. "Some haven't been so close, some of them have been real close games. I don't think it's really a factor where it's been. For whatever reason we haven't played a full 60-minute game in order to close out some of those games. We've certainly had chances in just about all of them."

Said tight end Jacob Tamme, "We've got to get a few more wins – that's really all that matters."

The Colts' run of success through this past decade has come in various fashions.

They have won 12 or more games seven consecutive seasons, and while they led the South wire-to-wire in 2003, 2005-2007 and last season, they overcame a 4-3 start to win the AFC South at 12-4 in 2004 and overcame a 3-4 start to make the playoffs as a wild card in 2008.

The Colts play four of their last six games at Lucas Oil Stadium, which wide receiver Pierre Garcon said makes maintaining the team's success early there this season a critical goal.

"We enjoy the home games," Garcon said. "We have to come through big at home. We like playing there at the end of the season because we're inside and it's not cold in there. That's to our advantage and hopefully, we'll play well.

"It's a little harder (this season), with losing more games, but we have to man up to it and play well when the times aren't going so well."

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