At 4-6, Chargers Still Motivated and Dangerous, Colts Players Say
INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Saturday knows well the circumstance.
And that circumstance is one reason the three-time Pro Bowl center isn't much considering the record of the Colts' opponent Sunday.
Yes, the San Diego Chargers have lost three of their past four games.
Yes, their record is 4-6.
And no, they're not leading the AFC West 10 games into the season, as they were widely predicted to do.
But the Colts were in a similar situation three weeks ago – coming off a disappointing loss, under .500 and very much needing a victory – before winning three consecutive games, and Saturday said come this weekend, the Chargers certainly will believe themselves capable of a similar streak.
And that, Saturday said, makes the Chargers dangerous no matter the record.
"I can guarantee you we're going to get their best shot," Saturday said this week as the Colts (6-4) prepared to play the Chargers (4-6) at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Cal., Sunday at 8:15 p.m.
"I know San Diego's in a situation we were a couple of weeks ago where everybody counted them out. These guys know they can get on a run and put a bunch of big games together and get themselves back in the playoff hunt."
The Chargers, despite having lost three of their past four games, have won three of their four games at Qualcomm Stadium this season, with the only loss coming in the season-opener, when Carolina scored a touchdown on the final play of a 26-24 victory. San Diego, which has won 18 of its past 20 home games, begins a three-game homestand Sunday.
"I just plan on the team bringing their 'A' game," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "Are they desperate in terms of, 'Will they kick an onside kick?' I don't think that's their MO. I think they're definitely going to be out there with everything dialed up trying to get a victory. It's probably no different than any other week when they face any opponent.
"I guess they have a little more of a sense of urgency because they dug themselves a hole, but it's still going to be a wily football team playing with high energy at home, trying to go out there and get a victory."
After Indianapolis, the Chargers play host to Atlanta (6-4) and Oakland (2-8), and they also finish the regular season with a home game against the West-leading Broncos (6-4).
The game remaining against the Broncos – and Denver's relatively-slim lead in the division – has given San Diego incentive this week.
"Don't count us out. Ever," Chargers defensive end Jacques Cesaire told Chargers.com this week.
"Two games back, but the team we're two games back from, we get to play them once," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, the AFC's leading passer having completed 191 of 296 passes for 2,513 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
"You just hope you can gain enough ground where that game will mean everything."
The Chargers, Colts players said this week, aren't dangerous just because they're highly-motivated. They're dangerous because after two consecutive AFC West titles – and a year after playing in the AFC title game – they're still one of the NFL's most talented teams.
"They're the same team," Colts safety Melvin Bullitt said. "They've been in every game they've played in."
Said Colts tight end Dallas Clark, "They're very sound, very physical. They make you go the distance."
In addition to Rivers, who in his fifth season has developed into one of the NFL's best at his position, San Diego also features two-time defending NFL rushing champion LaDainian Tomlinson, Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, returner/running back Darren Sproles and veteran wide receiver Chris Chambers.
That unit has averaged 25.4 points a game this season, but playing at home, they have averaged 35 points a game.
"They are a very good football team," Colts President Bill Polian said. "They have talent that is rare."
Polian said that talent extends beyond the offense to a defense that even without Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman (out with an injury) features playmakers and some of the NFL's best players at their positions, a list that includes linebacker Shaun Phillips, nose tackle Luis Castillo and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who had three interceptions against Indianapolis last regular season and another in the playoffs.
The injury to Merriman, Polian and Dungy each said, has hurt the Chargers, and finishing fifth in the NFL as a team with 42 sacks last season they have registered 22 through 10 games, the 12th highest total in the league. San Diego last season led the NFL in turnover margin at plus-24 and takeaways with 48. The Chargers are 23rd in turnover margin at minus-5 this season and their 10 takeaways are tied for 29th in the NFL.
Still, Dungy said the Chargers have played as well as any team in the NFL at times this season – particularly during one-sided victories over the playoff-contending New York Jets and New England Patriots – and in addition to the Carolina loss, they lost to Denver on a controversial last-minute call and to Pittsburgh on a last-minute field goal this past Sunday.
"This is a team that very easily could be and probably should be 7-3 except for a couple of bad calls and a bad bounce here and there," Polian said. "They're a very formidable opponent. You would much rather be playing them here, but we're not, so we have to go out to California and do our best. It's likely to be another high-scoring affair, because both offenses can really move the football."
The Chargers last season beat the Colts twice, 23-21 in San Diego in the regular season, and 28-24 in an AFC Divisional Playoffs. Both games were decided in the final two minutes, and Clark said the team the Colts will play Sunday isn't far removed from the one that swept Indianapolis last season.
"They're still playing tough and they're still playing sound football," Clark said.
The Chargers' victories over the Colts last season, combined with a 26-17 victory in Indianapolis in 2005, give them a three-game winning streak over the Colts, the longest ongoing streak of any NFL team over Indianapolis.
The only other team in the NFL with a winning streak against the Colts: the Tennessee Titans, who beat the Colts in the 2007 regular-season finale and again this season.
"It's just been a lot of things," Clark said, noting that the Colts committed nine turnovers against San Diego last season – six in the regular season and three in the playoffs. "We haven't taken care of the ball. We've done our share of having some turnovers here and there, and that kills you with any team. For whatever reason, they've done a good job of making more plays than we have. That's kind of the one thing we need to do. We need to make some plays, move the chains and take care of the ball, and just try to execute that way.
"We definitely can't have any negative plays, especially on the road."
Said Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, "What happens is you look at the tape and you look at things you could have done a little bit better, and you realize that it's going to come down to just playing ball. We were that way with New England, where everybody said we couldn't beat them, and we did have trouble beating them for three or four years. All of a sudden, you just relax and start to play a little bit better. There are no major adjustments or changes that you make, and you have a little more success.
"Houston's probably in the same boat with us. They've played us two games where they really have a chance to win and they don't win. There's nothing you can do but go back and play a little bit better next time. Does last year's game really impact this year? Not really."