A Capsule Look at Saturday's Colts-Chargers Game
COLTS (12-4) vs. CHARGERS (8-8)
Saturday, 8 p.m. EST
San Diego, Cal.
Colts – Tony Dungy, seventh season as Colts Head Coach (85-27, 92-32 including playoffs) and 12th season as NFL Head Coach (139-69, 148-78 including playoffs).
Chargers – Norv Turner, second season as Chargers Head Coach (19-13, 20-14 including postseason) and 11th season as an NFL Head Coach (77-95-1, 80-97-1 including postseason).
Colts – 12-4, 2nd in AFC South.
Chargers – 8-8, 1st in AFC West.
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS
Colts – 2007.
Chargers – 2007.
2008 NFL RANKINGS
Offense – Overall, 15th (335.5 yards per game); Rushing, 31st (79.6 ypg); Passing, 5th (255.9 ypg); Defense – Overall, 11th (310.9 yards per game); Rushing, 24th (122.9 ypg); Passing, 6th (188.1 ypg).
Offense – Offense – Overall, 11th (349.0 yards per game); Rushing, 20th (107.9 ypg); Passing, 7th (241.1 ypg); Defense – Overall, 25th (349.9 yards per game); Rushing, 11th (102.6 ypg); Passing, 31st (247.4 ypg).
Colts – Peyton Manning (371-555 completions, 4,002 yards, 66.8 pct., 27 TD, 12 INT, 95.5 passer rating).
Chargers – Philip Rivers (312-478 completions, 4,009 yards, 65.3 pct., 34 TD, 11 INT, 105.5 passer rating).
Colts – Joseph Addai (155 carries, 544 yards, 5 TD); Dominic Rhodes (152 carries, 538 yards, 6 TD).
Chargers – LaDainian Tomlinson (292 carries, 1,110 yards, 11 TD); Darren Sproles (61 carries, 330 yards, 1 TD).
Colts – Reggie Wayne (82 receptions, 1,145 yards, 6 TD); Dallas Clark (77 receptions, 848 yards, 6 TD); Marvin Harrison (60 receptions, 636 yards, 5 TD); Anthony Gonzalez (57 receptions, 664 yards, 4 TD).
Chargers – Antonio Gates (60 receptions, 704 yards, 8 TD); Vincent Jackson (59 receptions, 1,098 yards, 7 TD); LaDainian Tomlinson (52 receptions, 426 yards, 1 TD); Chris Chambers (33 receptions, 462 yards, 5 TD); Darren Sproles (29 receptions, 342 yards, 5 TD).
Colts – Robert Mathis (11.5), Dwight Freeney (10.5).
Chargers – Shaun Phillips (7.5); Jyles Tucker (5.5).
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY?
Colts – The Colts, after back-to-back double-digit road losses, won nine consecutive games to clinch a seventh consecutive playoff appearance and the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Colts, after clinching the No. 5 seed in the second-to-last game of the season, finished the season with a 23-0 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday.
Chargers – The Chargers, whose eight losses this season came by a total of 34 points, lost three consecutive games in November to slip to 4-8. They then won three consecutive games, including road victories over Kansas City and Tampa Bay, before a 52-21 victory in the season finale to qualify for the playoffs.
QUOTES TO NOTE
"You don't just go on runs like this if you don't have love for the other person that you're playing with and love for everybody around here. Everybody's here for a common goal, and that's to win championships and to have one another's back. I think that shows the character of us and our coaches and everyone in this organization."
--- Colts Running Back Dominic Rhodes
"It's been a rollercoaster ride. It's been somewhat of a tough year, really. . . . There were a lot of games where the game was decided just about at the buzzer, and those are tough, one of them being with the Colts. We fought through it and it's maybe one of the most gratifying division championships, I guess, because of the way we kept fighting, the resiliency we showed and the fight and character."
--- Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers
The Chargers, who played in the AFC Championship Game a year ago and who were selected by many before the season to play in the Super Bowl, overcame a 4-8 start with victories in their final four games, clinching a fourth AFC West title in five seasons with a 52-21 victory over the Denver Broncos Sunday.
"I think that once you get into the playoffs it doesn't matter how you got into them," Chargers guard Kris Dielman told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We're on a good roll. We're ending the season on a good note. Now it's time to go into the postseason and make a good run."
The victory over the Broncos capped a remarkable late-season run for San Diego, which slipped to 4-8 during a three-game losing streak that included a 23-20 loss to the Colts in San Diego on November 23.
The Chargers lost to three playoff games during the stretch – they also lost 11-10 at Pittsburgh and 22-16 at home to Atlanta – to slip three games behind Denver.
But Denver lost two consecutive games and San Diego won at home against Oakland (34-7), at Kansas City (22-21) and at Tampa Bay (41-24) to set up a home game against the Broncos in the regular-season finale to decide the AFC West title.
The Chargers became the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting the season 4-8, and the first NFL team to win a division after trailing by three games with three remaining. They also are the first team since the 1985 Cleveland Browns to win a division with an 8-8 record.
Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, slowed by a toe injury early in the season, averaged 3.8 yards a carry this season – more than a half a yard below his career average – but he rushed for more than 90 yards in three of the last four games.
With the running game ranked 20th, quarterback Philip Rivers finished the season as the NFL's top-rated passer, throwing for 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His 34 touchdowns broke the franchise record of 33 set by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts in 1981.
The Chargers' defense, which played all but one game this season without Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman, intercepted 15 passes this season after intercepting 30 last season. Their sacks total also dropped from 42 last season to 28 this season.
Three key head-to-heads . . .
• Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis versus offensive tackles Marcus McNeill and Jeromey Clary. Freeney and Mathis each made the Pro Bowl this season and are expected to play Sunday after being held out of the regular-season finale Sunday. Freeney, the Colts' all-time sacks leader, finished the season with 10.5 sacks and after missing the last seven games of last season, was named to his fourth Pro Bowl. Mathis, who led the team with 11.5 sacks, was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time. Clary started 16 games this season and McNeill started 14. The Chargers allowed 25 sacks in 16 games, the ninth fewest in the NFL.
• Colts wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison versus Chargers cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer. Wayne, a Pro Bowl selection the past three seasons, continued to be one of the NFL's best wide receivers this season, ranking fourth in the AFC with 1,145 receiving yards and catching six touchdown passes. Harrison, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, caught 60 passes for 636 yards and five touchdowns, and last week moved into second place on the NFL's all-time receptions list. He now has 1,102 career receptions. Cromartie made the Pro Bowl last season with 10 interceptions, but with the Chargers' pass rush less effective than last season, he finished this season with two interceptions. The Chargers ranked next-to-last in the NFL in pass defense this season.
• Colts kickoff and punt coverage versus Chargers running back Darren Sproles. A fourth-year veteran from Kansas State, Sproles is one of the NFL's most dangerous returners. In a 23-21 victory over Indianapolis in San Diego last season, Sproles returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown and returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown midway through the first quarter. The Colts limited Sproles in their first meeting this season, holding him to a four-yard punt return and a 20.2-yard average on four kickoff returns.
CHARGERS IN REVIEW
The Chargers, a season after winning the AFC West, slipped to 4-8 before a late-season surge moved them past the Broncos into the postseason.
They began the season with a 26-24 loss at home to Carolina, losing when Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dante Rosario as time expired, and after a 39-38 loss at Denver, they beat the New York Jets at home and Oakland on the road to even their record.
They then lost at Miami before a 30-10 victory over New England, but a 23-14 loss at Buffalo and a 37-32 loss to New Orleans in London pushed them to 3-5 entering a Week 9 bye.
They held off a late rally to beat Kansas City at home before losing a late lead at Pittsburgh in mid-November. The loss to the Steelers was part of a three-game November losing streak that moved them four games under .500 and three games behind the Broncos entering December.
The Chargers opened December with a 34-7 victory over the Raiders, then beat the Chiefs, 22-21, in Kansas City before beating Tampa Bay on the road, 41-24. They clinched the AFC West with a 31-point victory over Denver Sunday night.
A key to the Chargers' late-season run was their return to form in the area of turnover differential. A year ago, when they made the AFC Championship Game, they led the NFL in turnover margin at plus-24, forcing 48 turnovers and committing 24. Through 10 games this season, the Chargers were 4-6 and had a minus-5 turnover margin. In the last four games of the season, a span in which they went 4-0 and overcame a three-game deficit to win the AFC West, they forced 11 turnovers and committed four, finishing the season plus-4 – the seventh-best margin in the AFC. "Everyone's talking about, 'What's happened in December?''' Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner said. "I think both ways, the ability to protect the ball, the ability to create some turnovers in a game like this, as close as these games have been, ends up being key factors. Indianapolis has done such a great job protecting the ball, if you get an opunity, if a ball is on the ground or if you get your hands on it, you have to make the most of that opportunity."
The Colts and the Chargers have played 24 times in the regular season, with the Chargers leading the series, 14-10, winning three consecutive meetings between the teams before the Colts won in San Diego in November. That streak included a 28-24 victory over the Colts in an AFC Divisional Playoff game at the RCA Dome last January. The teams played two high-profile, memorable games in December of 2004 and 2005 and another in November of last season. In the 2004 meeting, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning set an NFL record by throwing his 49th touchdown pass of the season, a 21-yarder to wide receiver Brandon Stokley that sent the game into overtime. The Colts won, 34-31, in overtime on a 30-yard field goal by kicker Mike Vanderjagt. In 2005, the Chargers beat Indianapolis, 26-17, handing the Colts their first loss following 13 consecutive victories to start the season. Last November, the Colts rallied from a 23-0 first-half deficit before losing 23-21 when kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a 29-yard field goal in the final two minutes.
On November 23, 2008, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri – a year after missing a short, potential game-winning field goal on a rain-soaked field in a loss at San Diego – gave the Colts a 23-20 victory with a 51-yard field goal as time expired at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The victory was the Colts' fourth in succession. 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 from quarterback Peyton Manning to 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.