AFC South: Colts-Chargers

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

A number of readers had a similar reaction following the Colts' loss in San Diego Saturday night.

Allow me to paraphrase:

"Peyton Manning should give the MVP back,"

"Some MVP."

"That's the MVP?"

PEYTON MANNING
Quarterback  Indianapolis Colts

2008 Season Stats

AttCmpYdsTDIntRat
5553714,002271295.0

I am compelled to reply.

First off, the Colts didn't lose because of Manning. Yes, the playoff record of one of the two best quarterbacks of his era should be better than 7-8. Yes, Manning's Colts have bowed out in their first game four times too often. But while Saturday wasn't Manning's best game and while his one big pass play came on a busted coverage, his work was sufficient for a win. He deserves a share of the blame, but he's not responsible for the insufficient run game, the Colts' struggles slowing Darren Sproles, the failed block by Gijon Robinson on a crucial sack that killed Indianapolis' chance to ice it or a number of other issues.

Secondly, the MVP Award is for the regular season. If you thought Manning didn't play MVP football against the Chargers, so be it. But that game doesn't erase the work he did from September through December that earned him the award in a landslide vote.

This is the reverse of something I see constantly. Player X, let's say he's a receiver, will have played poorly for a month and then he has a breakout game. He says, "That was for everyone who gave me all the grief. Take that. See?" And his supporters and emotional fans pick that up and run with it, calling in for hours on talk radio and firing e-mails to bloggers.

But while he may have had a wonderful game, guess what? He still had a lousy month before that. He didn't change history.

 Colts stride to playoffs
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 Re-live the sights and sounds from the Colts' 2008 regular season.

Neither did Manning in San Diego.

A performance that may not have met the high standards he's set for himself in the playoff opener was a disappointment. It didn't all of a sudden make someone else worthy of MVP.

And if you think Manning was disappointing, how about we take a close look at the guys who tied for second in the MVP vote? Chad Pennington threw four picks as Miami lost while Michael Turner averaged 2.3 yards a carry as the Falcons lost.

One e-mailer suggested the MVP voting be moved until after the postseason.

Bad idea.

The 16-game grind of the regular season deserves an MVP. There is already a second award for a guy who leads his team to the Lombardi Trophy. It's called the Super Bowl MVP.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- Eric Soderburg and Eric Bolin of ESPN Stats & Analysis provide us with some excellent insight through numbers to what didn't work for the Colts Saturday in their OT loss at San Diego.

As had been the case through much of the season, running back Joseph Addai simply could not get going. His 16 carries for 44 yards included a first-quarter touchdown but little else.

The Colts couldn't rush the ball on early downs, averaging just 2.2 yards on first and second down combined.

The poor rushing on early downs put the Colts in third-and-long situations on 10 of 14 third-down plays.

Colts' 3rd-down Conversions
Yards to goConversionsPct.
4 or less 3-4 75%
5 or more 3-10 30%

With Darren Sproles leading the way, the Chargers dominated the run game.

Chargers, Colts Rushing the Ball
 ColtsChargers
Rushes of 10+ yds 1 7
Rushes of 20+ yds 0 1*
Rush 1st downs 5 11
1st-half yds 39 63
2nd-half yds 25 104**
* Sproles 22-yard score to end game
** Includes OT (29 yards)
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- Eric Soderburg and Eric Bolin of ESPN Stats & Analysis provide us with some excellent insight through numbers to what didn't work for the Colts Saturday in their OT loss at San Diego.

Other than the Reggie Wayne's 72-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, San Diego held Manning in check on long passes.

Manning on Throws of 10 Yards or More
 Wayne TDAll others
Comp-Att 1-1 4-15
Yards 72 85
TD-INT 1-0 0-0
Rating 158.3 50.7

Manning completed just 4 of 11 passes to Wayne. He was better when targeting Dallas Clark, connecting on 7 of 10 passes, but they went for just 33 yards (4.7 average).

Here's a breakdown of his targets:

Manning Passing By Receiver
 WayneHarrisonClarkGonzalez
Thrown to 11 5 10 9
Complete 4 3 7 6*
Yards 129 20 33 97
TD 1 0 0 0
Defended 2 1 2 2
Dropped 0 0 0 1
YAC 66 3 15 39
* All in first half.
 
 Harry How/Getty Images
 Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 310 yards and a touchdown but could not get the Colts past San Diego.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- Their faces blank, their steps a shuffle, the Indianapolis Colts trudged to their buses Saturday night. They were still digesting another too-early exit from the playoffs. They still were coming to terms with how a 23-17 overtime loss to the host San Diego Chargers meant another round of questions about why they aren't going where they believe they belong.

"I've played 10 years man, it's only ended good once," center Jeff Saturday said, referring to Super Bowl XLI at the end of the 2006 season. "It's awful. What are you going to say? How do you make that finish good? You come out with full expectations to beat this team and play bad. That sums it up."

The Colts of president Bill Polian and quarterback Peyton Manning will always have that one Lombardi Trophy, but they now own a 7-8 record in the playoffs. Tony Dungy, who joined the Colts a bit later, is 7-6 in the postseason with a horseshoe on his hat.

Polian bristled at a question about the overall body of playoff work.

"I'm not interested in bodies of work or underachieving or any of that," he said. "That's your guys' stuff, that has nothing to do with me. I'm not even going to deal with that.

"You've got to be pretty good to get here, and it's about matchups. And this is a tough team to matchup against so we have some work to do in that regard. We know what we have to do. Nobody underachieved on this team this year, I can assure you of that. Absolutely no one."

Individually, perhaps not. Collectively on this day, however, it certainly seems fair to suggest that the only team in the history of the league to win 12 or more games in six consecutive seasons, the only coach to go to the playoffs for 10 consecutive years and a club that carried a league best nine-game winning streak into this postseason should have been able to do more.

"We were a confident team, we figured we were going to pull it out," safety Antoine Bethea said. "We had a lot of close games, we pulled them out. We figured we were going to do the same this game."

The play the Colts pointed to as their undoing wasn't a drive-extending defensive holding against cornerback Tim Jennings in overtime or the 22-yard game-winning touchdown run by Darren Sproles three plays later. It was a failed third down by the offense.

Pinned deep in their own end by a perfect Mike Scifres punt, the Colts had a three-point lead and the ball on the final play before the two-minute warning of regulation, facing a third-and-2 from their own 9-yard line.

Get those two yards and a first down, and the Colts keep possession. Get that first down and the Chargers are out of timeouts and the Colts are milking away the final seconds of a win. Get that first down and the Colts are wondering if Sunday's wild-card playoff results would send them to Nashville or Pittsburgh for a divisional round game next weekend.

Instead linebacker Tim Dobbins burst through the line and smothered Manning for an eight-yard sack and forced the Colts to punt.

"When we've got the ball and we've got to make a first down to ice the game, we weren't able to do it," Dungy said. "We were trying to make a first down. We know if we make one first down, the game is over. We had a quick pass and we didn't get it off."

"I'm not going to get into the specific plays," Manning said. "Just the Chargers made a good play on that and obviously it was disappointing that we weren't able to convert that third down."

The Chargers drove to a game-tying 26-yard field goal. They quashed any chance the Colts had at driving to a field goal with only 24 seconds to work with. The Chargers won the overtime coin toss and moved 75 yards to the touchdown that rocked Qualcomm Stadium more than the pregame military flyover.

While Sproles was fantastic on offense, the running back and return man was outdone on special teams by Scifres, who averaged a net of 51.7 yards on six punts that placed the Colts, in order, at their 10, 19, 3, 7, 9 and 1 to start on offense.

"Their punter, that guy is unbelievable," Saturday said. "He gets five game balls. They put us inside the 10 at least three or four times, inside the five once or twice. That's a long way to tote it against any defense."

Polian called it a "Hall of Fame game" for Scifres.

The best NFL teams make the most of sudden change plays, a turnover that flips field position, a call that goes in their favor.

But the sudden change the Colts were coming to terms with is the sort they have no interest in getting good at, the kind where, in a flash, the season shifts to offseason.

"It's a new season now, so you lose, you go home and we lost," Bethea said. "The nine-game win streak, it was good the way we ended the [regular] season. But you lose and you go home."

Minutes later, Bethea fell in line with some of his teammates, starting that journey home with a walk down a dim, narrow hallway, where wheels on equipment carts rattled on a dimpled floor, creating white noise into which a season of promise could fade.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- Tony Dungy's internal status review is underway.

He will search to see if he still feels the pull to coach or figure out that he's had enough. The Colts' season ended with a wild card loss at Qualcomm Stadium. Now he'll find out if something bigger has ended too.

"I'll try to get over the disappointment of this loss, talk things over with my wife and see where we go from here," Dungy said.

The Colts have succession plans in place as associate head coach Jim Caldwell is set to take over if Dungy steps down.

"We know who the next head coach is if that occurs, we're prepared for that," team president Bill Polian said. "That would be sad but if that's Tony's decision we'll respect it and we're ready to move on."

Players said they would hate to see Dungy go, but that would understand if he decided to leave.

"We want to be the champ and help coach Dungy go out on top," safety Antoine Bethea said. "We've got to respect whatever decision that he makes, but hopefully he comes back for another."

As he wrapped up his past game comments, Dungy showed that in the blur of the end of this season, he still can't help but thinks of himself as part of the future.

"I was proud of the guys, how hard they played and we'll just have to come back next year and work to get to this point and then play a little bit better," he said.

If he decides to leave, he'll have to modify that "we" to a "they."

Colts don't lament OT coin toss

January, 4, 2009
1/04/09
1:53
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- To their credit, the Colts didn't spend any energy after a hard-to-swallow overtime loss campaigning for a change in the rules for the extra period.

They called heads and the coin landed tails. The Colts needed to make a stop and take the ball away or force a punt to give their offense another chance.

They failed to do so and suffered the consequences.

"It's hard for me to get into right now," Peyton Manning said. "Obviously you like to win it in regulation when you have the chance, because you know once you go into overtime that that's a risk, that you might not get a chance on offense. They won the toss and our defense fought hard all day, played tough. There were some penalties, some tough breaks that went against us and got them into field position,"

Said center Jeff Saturday: "We all know the rules before you go in. You can't second-guess it now, they got the coin toss and they made something happen with it. Had we got the coin toss, and scored a touchdown you wouldn't expect them to cry about it either, that's the rules of the game and they took advantage of the rule."

Cornerback Tim Jennings' defensive holding call as he worked against Chris Chambers gave the Chargers a key first down on the only drive of overtime.

"Questionable, that's all I can say is questionable," Jennings said.

What if you won the coin toss?

"We've got the MVP on our side," he said. "We didn't look at it like that. We felt like as a defense we've got to go out there and stop them and get the MVP back the football. We just didn't get it done. If we won the toss, we had a better chance of winning."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- So much for a nine-game winning streak worth of momentum.

This time, it was the San Diego Chargers' late dramatics that seized the game. Indianapolis, a team led by MVP Peyton Manning that no one wanted to face in the AFC playoffs, is no longer part of the field following a 23-17 loss to San Diego.

It's hardly the end of an era, but it is the end of a remarkable season.

The Colts thrived once Manning got healthy and an offensive line got healthier, but they lived on the edge with great frequency, winning far more often by inches than miles. No matter how good Manning was, he couldn't do it all Saturday. Once again his run game wasn't sufficient and this time he ran into a defense that made some big plays and an opponent able to score on crucial drives.

This time the Chargers won the coin toss -- the Colts called heads, it landed tails -- and made the plays on offense to win it. With LaDainian Tomlinson out with an injury after a minimal showing, Darren Sproles helped key the win in a coming-out party on national TV.

In OT, Philip Rivers lobbed a ball up with little hope of completing it and drew a crucial holding call against Tim Jennings that produced a first down. A facemask against Clint Session added yards to position Sproles for his game winning 22-yard touchdown burst.

He and the Chargers find out tomorrow if they go to Nashville or Pittsburgh next weekend. A Miami wins sends the Chargers to face the Titans; a Baltimore victory means San Diego plays the Steelers.

The Colts are on their way back to Indianapolis, with no reservations for another flight necessary and another playoff disappointment in the books.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- There was no end of regulation magic for the Colts in Qualcomm Stadium this time.

To top the Chargers again and advance to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, the Colts are going to have to get it done in overtime.

Peyton Manning had 24 seconds with two timeouts and the ball at the Colts' 19-yard line. Expectations are that if he's got the ball at the end he'll find a way, but with those time and yardage constraints and the Chargers defense playing well, it was too much too ask.

So we'll have a coin flip and sudden death in a game that's delivering all the drama the NFL can ask for and more than fans of the Colts and Chargers may be able to stand.

Remember, all replay reviews are initiated from the booth in extra time.

Can Manning do it again at the end?

January, 3, 2009
1/03/09
11:12
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- Can Peyton Manning do it again?

The game is tied with 24 seconds remaining, the Colts have two timeouts and the ball at their own 19. A divisional round trip to Nashville or Pittsburgh on the line.

The Colts have a chance to get Adam Vinatieri in range for the win but at worst, they're going to get overtime.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers' defense had been waiting and waiting, not showing what they planned on a play until the play clock was down to about 10 seconds.

Then they tried a player substitution and got caught sleeping, saw the Colts hurry a play instead of making all their adjustments and got burned for a giant scoring play -- Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne for 72 yards and a touchdown over an unaware Antonio Cromartie -- that put the Colts up 17-14 in the third period.

It's the kind of play that begs for a thorough breakdown, especially if the lead holds up.

My hope is to try to dissect it for you after this is over.

But the Chargers are driving, so things may change again quickly.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- Indy's special teams are always a concern, and they have a lot to do with why they are trailing this one 14-10 at the half.

The Colts have done OK containing returns, but how to you control punts? San Diego's Mike Scifres 67-yard punt was a thing of beauty and he has a 56.9 average on four boots -- a huge key for the Chargers as they've played a pretty smart and effective field-position game.

Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding was fortunate to get any distance on a kickoff when he slipped badly as he planted and kicked.

Colts return man Chad Simpson was lucky his knee was down on the kickoff return with 33 seconds left when Kassim Osgood stripped the ball from him. That turnover would have been a killer.

Indy needs to play special teams to a wash in the second half, it's a phase where the Chargers can gain confidence that carries over to the offense.

A couple other observations at the half:

* Anthony Gonzalez has six catches for 97 yards and two other balls thrown his way were catchable but went incomplete. He's been very efficient on crossing routes and slants.

Maybe the Chargers are content allowing him to be the primary guy. The Colts are surely ready for any defensive adjustment that would allow for more room on the outside for Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison.

* Dwight Freeney is having great success against Marcus McNeil and his tight end help. Philip Rivers has not settled in or ever looked really comfortable, and it's because the Colts pass rush is quickly moving him off his spot. Robert Mathis has a sack as well. San Diego's tackles need to play better for the Chargers to have a chance.

Rivers has completed just two of his 12 passes to a receiver -- both to Chris Chambers -- with Antonio Gates and Darren Sproles leading the way in the passing attack.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- Referee Ron Winter and his crew called more penalties than any other crew this season, according to the NBC broadcast of the game.

The San Diego Chargers have been called for more pass interference penalties in the league this season with 13.

Put those two together and you get an advantage for the pass-happy Colts.

They already got a 30-yard pass interference penalty against Quentin Jammer, though the drive fizzled, ending with a punt.

Keep an eye on the frequency of flags and the Chargers defensive backs.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates are active for Saturday night's game between the Chargers and the Colts.

Both players were game time decision.

Tomlinson has a groin injury. The team is hopeful he will be able to hold up through the game. If not, backups Darren Sproles and Jacob Hester will play key roles.

Gates had an ankle injury. Both Tomlinson and Gates didn't practice all week.

Colts-Chargers inactives

January, 3, 2009
1/03/09
7:07
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- Here are the inactives for the Colts and Chargers:

Colts:
RB Lance Ball
DB Jamie Silva
LB Gary Brackett
G Jamey Richard
G Mike Pollak
WR Pierre Garcon
DT Daniel Muir
DE Curtis Johnson

The Colts cut running back Najeh Davenport and added defensive tackle Michael Toudouze

Chargers:
QB Charlie Whitehurst
FB Billy Latsko
FB Mike Tolbert
LB Brandon Siler
G Kynan Forney
T Corey Clark
WR Malcolm Floyd
DT Ian Scott

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

SAN DIEGO -- Ed Werder's report that Tony Dungy will contemplate retiring after the Colts' season is over comes as no surprise. It's become clear in recent years that such a period of reflection will be an annual deal for him for the remainder of his career.

There is some suggestion floating around that it could leave the Colts in flux the way Brett Favre uncertain future had done to the Packers. That's a stretch. Dungy will take a reasonable period of time, consider whether he wants to continue or go on to the next stage of his life that will be heavy with charitable works, and give the team a decision.

If he goes, associate head coach Jim Caldwell has already been tabbed to take over and the vibe of the franchise under him would not change dramatically.

Which way is Dungy leaning? I don't think even his inner circle knows, because I don't think he knows. We've got to let it play out, and the Colts are hoping none if it's set in motion for another month.

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