STILL SCRATCHING

Quarterback Peyton Manning recently described the Colts' approach while improving their status in the AFC playoff picture as scratching and fighting. The Colts have won three consecutive games by seven points or less, and on Wednesday, Manning said the task gets no easier Sunday.

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Colts' Task Gets No Easier Against Second-Place Chargers, Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – They scratched, and they fought.

That's how quarterback Peyton Manning recently described the Colts' approach while improving their status in the AFC playoff picture, a difficult task that has required victories in three consecutive games, all by less than seven points. On Wednesday afternoon, Manning made this much clear:

The scratching and fighting isn't over.

And the Colts' task gets no easier, either.

"We talked about trying to get on some kind of streak," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (6-4) prepared to play the San Diego Chargers (4-6) at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Cal., Sunday at 8:15 p.m.

"We put ourselves in a hole early in the season, and we're truly taking it one game at a time. We're playing a really good team this Sunday.

"Their record is not indicative of the kind of team they are."

That was a prevailing theme Wednesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center – that while the Colts very much need a victory to continue enhancing their status in a tightly-contested AFC, the circumstances Sunday will make getting one difficult.

The Chargers, a team picked by many analysts to win the AFC West and contend for the AFC title, have lost three of four games to slip two games behind Denver in their division, but three of their losses have been decided in the final minute, including an 11-10 loss to Pittsburgh last week.

"They're a team that is really talented," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "I'm sure a lot of people say it, but they're better than they're 4-6 record when you look at the big-play people they have, the special teams and the defense. We're going to have our hands full, as we always do when we play them.

"We have to get ready for a tough, physical game."

Said Manning, "They easily could be 8-2, 7-3, right now, so they're a very talented team and they are always tough when you play them up there."

The Colts (6-4), the five-time defending AFC South champions and a playoff team six consecutive seasons, remain four games behind South leader Tennessee (10-0).

One of five AFC teams at 6-4, the Colts hold the No. 5 seed in the conference, ranking ahead of non-division-leading Baltimore (6-4), Miami (6-4) and New England (6-4) because of a superior AFC record. The Denver Broncos are also 6-4 and lead San Diego in the West by two games.

"You never know what's going to happen, but it's an imant game for both teams," Manning said. "Both teams are kind of fighting and hanging in there in the AFC and that's why I think it will be a good ballgame.

"We're kind of on a one-week-at-a-time type of situation. It was a good win for us this past Sunday, but it's a whole new challenge this Sunday, a whole different style of defense, different players. We need to try to get better this week than we were this past week."

Pittsburgh (7-3) and the New York Jets (7-3) lead the North and East, respectively.

There are currently 11 teams in the AFC with records of 4-6 or better, with the Buffalo Bills at 5-5 and the Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars – playoff teams last season – each at 4-6. 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.

"It's a big game for us in trying to keep those AFC tiebreakers going," Dungy said.

The Colts and Chargers have played four times since 2004, with the Colts winning in overtime in 2004 and the Chargers winning the last three meetings in memorable fashion. In 2005, San Diego won in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, 26-17, snapping the Colts' 13-game, season-opening winning streak.

The Chargers then beat the Colts twice last season – 23-21, in San Diego, a game in which the Colts rallied from a 23-0 first-half deficit with kicker Adam Vinatieri missing a 29-yard field goal in the final two minutes; and, 28-24, in an AFC Divisional Playoff game at the RCA Dome.

The Chargers, playing without injured Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman, have forced 10 turnovers this season after forcing 48 last season, but Manning said while they rank 32nd in the NFL in pass defense, the film doesn't show a struggling defense.

The Chargers have won 18 of 20 games at home, and are 3-1 in San Diego this season with the lone loss being a 26-24 season-opening loss in which Carolina scored a touchdown on the game's final play.

"Teams that have moved the ball and scored some points on them have made some plays," Manning said. "They've made tight throws and have made some catches and made some runs after the catch. It's going to be that way. It's going to be a dogfight. It's going to be tough to move the ball against.

"We just have to find a way to execute. The things we've been doing a good job of will be important again. . . . It will be a challenge this week."

The Colts, after double-digit losses in back-to-back road games, beat AFC-contending New England (18-15) and Pittsburgh (24-20) before beating the Houston Texans, 33-27, this past week. The Colts rallied from second-half deficits in all three games.

"It's just on to the next opponent," Manning said. "We're still beat up. We still have some key players who have been injured and haven't been playing. When that's the case, you're always going to be kind of fighting, grinding and having to step up in certain spots.

"That's the case from here on out, it seems like. We're still trying to fight and scratch out way, and hopefully we can find a way to get a win this week, but it will be tough."

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