Vinatieri's 51-Yard Field Goal Gives Colts 23-20 Victory over San Diego
SAN DIEGO, Cal. – Once again, there was drama. A lot of it.
Once again, the Colts and San Diego Chargers played a memorable, nail-biting game – a prime-time showdown on national television with playoff implications. Once again, it came down to the right leg of one of the best all-time clutch kickers in NFL history.
This time, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri did what he has done so often.
He came up big. Real big.
Vinatieri, a year after missing a short field goal on a rain-soaked field in a loss at San Diego, on Sunday had an opunity to give Indianapolis a memorable victory on a cool, clear Southern California evening. This time, his 51-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with 0:00 remaining, giving the Colts a dramatic 23-20 victory in front of 68,428 at Qualcomm Stadium.
"You can't really change last year's outcome, obviously," Vinatieri said of a 29-yard missed field goal in the final two minutes of a two-point Chargers victory at Qualcomm last season.
"That kick will stay with me a long time, but at least it was nice to be able to get back out there and have another shot at it. The team played great, and moved the ball down the field. When your number's called, you have to go out there and do it.
"Making that kick, it was pretty sweet."
Said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, "You felt good about Adam making it. That's why he's the best kicker around – in all-time, in my opinion."
For the Colts (7-4), the victory was the fourth in succession after back-to-back losses in late October. They are now 4-0 in November, with the victories coming by three (New England), four (Pittsburgh), six (Houston) and three (San Diego) points.
"We're doing the things you have to do," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "We're hanging in there and giving ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter. I like where we are. We've improved every week. We just have to keep battling and keep going and get ready to go into December. . . .
"We're playing better than we've played all year. This is the time you want to do it. We have the confidence we can go into tough places and win. We've played a lot of the teams that are going to be competing for those playoff spots in the AFC and won four in a row in November.
"I like where we are."
The Chargers (4-7) who after beating the Colts last regular season eliminated them from the postseason, lost for the fourth time in five games. The Chargers entered the game having beaten Indianapolis in three consecutive meetings dating to 2005.
That was the Colts' longest losing streak to any opponent.
"It was huge," safety Antoine Bethea said. "It was a 60-minute dogfight, but you know, offense, defense, special teams stuck in there and hung in there. AV (Vinatieri) came through with a big field goal at the end.
"They ended our season last year. We knew it was a do-or-die for them. We knew we were going to get their all here at their home. Whatever they threw at us, we had to handle. It was a 60-minute dogfight and we came out with a big win."
Said Colts defensive end Raheem Brock, "They took us out of the playoffs. They're a good team. We have to take our hats off to them. They always play us pretty good, plus we owe them this win right here. We had to come in and get this win.
"We remember that taste in our mouth when they took us out of the playoffs."
The loss moved the Chargers three games behind the Colts with five remaining, and also gave the Colts a tiebreaker over San Diego because of the head-to-head victory.
"They're a very dangerous team, so you can't take them lightly," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said. "When you have a chance to put them away, you have to put them away."
Vinatieri's kick ended a dramatic, back-and-forth game in the teams' second meeting on NBC's Sunday Night Football in as many seasons.
"It was a great win tonight, to come in here and play these guys here at their place," said Manning, who completed 32 of 44 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for a passer rating of 92.5. We felt good we'd have a chance to win it at the end, and this time we did it. . . .
"We're fighting and scratching and clawing. That's kind of the phrase we're using. We're just kind of finding a way and scratching and getting it done. It feels good to get this win tonight."
The Colts, after trailing 10-3 in the first half, took a 20-10 lead entering the fourth quarter before San Diego tied it with a 47-yard field goal by Nick Kaeding with 1:30 remaining.
The Colts then drove 36 yards in six plays, with a 14-yard pass on 4th-and-1 to eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison setting up Vinatieri's game-winner.
The first-down-converting pass to Harrison came one play after officials ruled a pass from Manning to Harrison on 3rd-and-5 was a yard short. Officials originally ruled the play a first down, then ruled he was short by an inch.
"I thought it was going to be a first down," Dungy said. "We had the same crew last year – same thing, same situation. I don't know how we figure out the ball is six inches this way or that way. We said if it wasn't a first down, we wanted to run the clock down a little bit and go for it.
"We had a chance to get one play. Even if we missed it on fourth down, they still would have a long way to go. We felt they would be up there to stop the run. We had single coverage and got a pass to Marvin."
The Colts, who have won the AFC South each of the past five seasons, moved to within three games of South leader Tennessee (10-1), who lost for the first time this season Sunday – 34-13 to the New York Jets.
With the victory, the Colts maintained the AFC's fifth seed in the AFC 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. Pittsburgh (8-3) and the New York Jets (8-3) lead the North and East, respectively, with Denver (6-5) leading the West.
"We put ourselves in such a hole to start the season," Manning said. "We really can't afford to give one back. Every week is kind of that do-or-die situation. You don't want to give one back to the field. Every game's a dogfight. Every game you kind of expect a close game.
"These past few games we've won have all been fourth-quarter games. That's all you ask for is an opportunity, and fortunately, we've made the plays, but we're earning them. Hopefully, we keep that going."
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.
The Colts, who fell behind 23-0 in a 23-21 loss at San Diego last season, took an early lead on a 23-yard field goal by Vinatieri with 1:42 remaining in the first quarter. The Chargers tied it, 3-3, with a 35-yard field goal by Kaeding with 11:47 remaining before halftime.
That capped a nine-yard, 66-play drive.
The ensuing drive ended when Manning threw deep to Harrison, with Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer intercepting to give San Diego possession at its 11. It was Manning's first interception in four games, a span of 140 passes.
San Diego drove 89 yards on nine plays, with quarterback Philip Rivers throwing 39 yards down the middle to wide receiver Vincent Jackson to give San Diego a 10-3 lead 4:56 before halftime.
The Colts then re-tied the game on the ensuing possession, driving 71 yards on nine plays, with Manning throwing 13 yards to wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez to make it, 10-10. Indianapolis converted three third downs on the drive, including a 23-yard run by Joseph Addai on 3rd-and-1 from the Colts 38.
With the scored tied, 10-10, the Chargers drove toward the Colts' goal line on the first possession of the second half. But with the Chargers facing 3rd-and-12 at the Colts 14, defensive end Robert Mathis broke around right end.
As Rivers drifted left, Mathis slapped the ball out of his hands from behind. Brock picked up the fumble at the 25 and returned it to the 34.
Thirteen plays later, Manning passed to Rhodes, a play that converted 4th-and-goal from the Chargers 1 and gave Indianapolis a 17-10 lead with 3:51 remaining in the third quarter.
The Colts extended the lead to 20-10 early in the fourth quarter with a 38-yard field goal by Vinatieri, then the Chargers drove 70 yards in 6:12, with Rivers throwing a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Hester to cut the lead to three.
Rivers then drove the Chargers 58 yards on eight plays to set up a 47-yard field goal by Kaeding, with Indianapolis getting the ball at its 30 with 1:30 remaining after the ensuing kick to set up the game-winning drive.
"It was a great job by our defense, holding them to three there at the end," Manning said.
"When we got the ball back with 1:30, I felt good we had time to score," Dungy said. "It was obviously a satisfying win and one with a lot of drama. We knew we were going to get their best shot. They played the way a championship team plays. They fought back a couple of different times. We wanted it to be close in the fourth quarter. We had the 10-point lead and felt like we were in good shape.
"I thought our offense really executed."