San Diego Chargers Pull Away in Second Half for 36-14 Victory over Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium
INDIANAPOLIS – Peyton Manning saw things simply.
And while the Colts' 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback said there were many, many reasons for a 36-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday night in front of 66,085 at Lucas Oil Stadium, there wasn't much point spending time with complexities or analysis.
The Colts need to play better, Manning said.
And they need to start soon.
"Our execution needs to improve," Manning said after the streaking Chargers (6-5) pulled away from the Colts throughout the second half. "It's not one specific area.
"I think everybody just needs to step it up a little bit."
While Manning said that was particularly true of the offense, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said the result was a team-wide issue.
"It's always a collective issue," Caldwell said. "The defense, I thought, played extremely hard. No question about that – played really well in some spurts. It takes a full team effort to get it done.
"Against a team like that, you can't be lax in any area. We just weren't sharp."
Despite the loss, the Colts (6-5) remained in a first-place tie with Jacksonville (6-5) in the AFC South with five games remaining. The Jaguars lost to the New York Giants Sunday, 24-20.
Jacksonville and Indianapolis are a game ahead of Tennessee (5-6) and Houston (5-6). The Texans beat the Titans, 20-0, in Houston Sunday.
"The good thing is, a lot of other teams in our division lost," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "We are still in first place. Our first goal was to win our division, is still to win our division. So we need to do that.
"It's about getting into the playoffs. So I guess if you can take any good out of today, that's what it would be."
Added Manning, "We're fortunate, but from an offensive standpoint, we need to worry about the Colts. There are certainly some things we can control. That's what we have to worry about."
The Chargers, winners of their last four games, returned two interceptions for touchdowns, with safety Eric Weddle's 41-yard return with 8:21 remaining in the third quarter giving San Diego a 26-14 lead.
The Colts committed five turnovers, including a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Kevin Burnett with 2:00 remaining in the first quarter, and the Chargers – the NFL's top-ranked defense entering the game – scored 20 points off turnovers.
"They're an excellent defense," Manning said. "They did a good job. They got after us tonight. They executed their defense better than we did out offense."
The Colts, as has been the case in many recent weeks, played through a variety of injuries, playing Sunday without running back Joseph Addai and wide receiver Austin Collie. Defensively, the Colts were without not only safety Bob Sanders, but starting linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session.
They also recently placed tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez on injured reserve. Addai has been out the last four weeks, and Collie has missed two of the last three games.
The Colts on Sunday finished with 24 yards rushing on 13 carries, and the Chargers finished with six tackles for losses, five quarterbacks hurries and six passes defensed.
Defensively, the Colts allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown, but otherwise held San Diego's offense – the NFL's top-rated unit in terms of total yardage – to five field goals.
"It is what it is," Manning said. "We know the situation going into the game. We just have to play better on offense. I thought the defense did a good job tonight keeping them out of the end zone, making them settle for field goals."
A goal-line stand by the Colts kept the game close to start the second half.
The Chargers drove to the Indianapolis 1 on the third-quarter's first series, but after two runs fell short of the goal line, Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster sacked Rivers for an 11-yard loss to force a 30-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding, his fourth of the game.
The Chargers led 16-14 after a back-and-forth first half, with Manning passing four yards to third-year tight end Jacob Tamme for a 7-0 lead on the game's first drive.
Indianapolis' defense, which played solidly throughout the first half, held the Chargers to a 28-yard field goal by Kaeding on the ensuing possession, a score that capped a 10-play, 45-yard drive. The Chargers took a 10-7 lead when linebacker Burnett intercepted a pass from Manning intended for wide receiver Reggie Wayne. He returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.
An interception set up the Chargers' next score, too, with linebacker Stephen Cooper intercepting a pass at the Chargers 38. The pass floated when Manning was hit as he threw, and San Diego drove 45 yards to set up a 33-yard field goal by Kaeding.
Kaeding added a 50-yard field goal with 4:39 remaining in the half, pushing the lead to 16-7 after a five-play, 26-yard drive.
The Colts took possession at their 35 with 1:36 remaining, driving 65 yards on five plays, with a six-yard touchdown pass from Manning to rookie wide receiver Blair White pulling the Colts to within two points with 22 seconds remaining in the half.
It was the fifth consecutive game Indianapolis has scored in the final two minutes of the first half. White has three touchdown receptions in the last two games and four this season.
Manning completed 18 of 27 passes in the first half for 197 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers completed 8 of 12 passes for 72 yards after entering the game as the NFL's passing yardage leader through 12 games.
Rivers finished the game with 185 yards passing and no touchdowns, and San Diego's lone offensive touchdown came on a three-yard run by Mike Tolbert early in the fourth quarter, but despite a solid effort defensively, the Colts afterward spoke of refocusing and continuing to play through adversity.
"We need to regroup," Manning said. "This was not our night, for sure, on offense. We need to bounce back. It's disappointing when you lose, no question about it. We've lost three out of our last four. The real key is how we respond to it."
The Colts have three of five games remaining at home, and will play host to Dallas Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"We unfortunately didn't take advantage of an opunity we had in terms of getting a win," Caldwell said. "We're still in the same position we were before the game in terms of our division.
"We have high standards around here. No question about it, and that's a good thing. The fact of the matter is that we are still right in the thick of it as well, so we have to keep our heads up and keep fighting. We still have a lot of football left to play."
Said Colts center Jeff Saturday, "I think you have to put it in perspective. Obviously, we are disappointed. We don't want to be 6-5, but we are still in the hunt for our division and that's really what matters. That's what gets you in the playoffs.
"We are in a dog fight and making it tough on ourselves, but the good thing is we can still capture our first goal and that is to win our division."