AFC West: Adam Vinatieri
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
SAN DIEGO - For the fourth time this season, the San Diego Chargers have lost a game in the final seconds.
And this one might doom them more than any of the others.
Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri slammed a 51-yard field goal as time expired to give the Colts the win. San Diego lost last week in the final minute. The Chargers started the season 0-2 after heartbreaking losses to Carolina and Denver.
The Chargers hit the field on Sunday as the beneficiaries of a huge break. The Denver Broncos were humiliated at home by Oakland. The Broncos fell to 6-5 with the upset loss.
However, the Chargers could not take advantage of the break and after the loss to the Colts they remain two games out in the dysfunctional AFC West playoff race. While Denver is not in good shape, it still leads by two games with five games to go.
The Chargers didn't go down easily Sunday night. They fought back from a 20-10 with less than six minutes to go. But the Colts made the last-gasp drive, fueled by a long pass play from Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison on fourth down and inches.
And, so, the Chargers lose another one.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Here's a question for the 1-9 Kansas City Chiefs: Did they think they would miss Jared Allen this much?
Without Allen, the Chiefs have absolutely no pass rush at all. Kansas City has six sacks in 10 games, the least in the NFL.
Defenses have no chance of winning if opposing offenses can go into games knowing there is going to be no consistent pass rush. If a defense has a legitimate pass rush, opposing offenses have to play very close to the vest. Offenses have to be careful. There's nothing to be careful about when you play Kansas City this season.
Of course, that didn't used to be the case. Allen was a pass-rushing terror and he made Kansas City's defense legitimate. But for financial reasons, Allen was traded to Minnesota in April for a bundle of draft picks. Those draft choices ultimately should help Kansas City rebuild its program.
But the absence of Allen is glaring these days.
At least the Oakland Raiders can take solace in this: Eddie Royal was no one-hit wonder.
Royal, second-round pick from Virginia Tech, had a magnificent NFL debut, catching nine passes for 146 yards in the opener against Oakland. Royal torched DeAngelo Hall, who has since been released. It was that Oakland debut against Royal that set the tone for a disastrous stay in the Bay Area for Hall.
Now, Royal will take aim at Hall's replacement, Chris Johnson. But at least Oakland knows that Royal is the real deal. The rookie of the year candidate has been special. Royal, who is also a terror in the return game, has 56 catches and four touchdowns despite missing one game with an ankle injury.
Oakland also has to deal with star Denver receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall didn't play on opening night in the Broncos' 41-14 whipping of Oakland. He was serving a one-game NFL suspension for off-field issues. Now the Raiders have to deal with both Marshall and Royal. That's not exactly a soothing thought.
The Chargers and the Colts have not been their usual terrific selves in 2008. In fact, both would be lucky to advance to the playoffs.
But that doesn't mean these two teams will put on a boring show Sunday night. If the last two times the two teams met are any indication, this is going to be a must-watch affair.
On Sunday night in San Diego last year, the Chargers won 23-21 when usually clutch Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a 29-yard field goal with less than two minutes to go.
In a divisional playoff game at Indianapolis, the Chargers shocked the defending Super Bowl champions with a fourth-quarter touchdown to win 28-24 in the final game in the RCA Dome despite 402 passing yards from Peyton Manning. Backup quarterback Billy Volek led the Chargers to the win after Philip Rivers injured his knee in the game.
The Chargers need to find a way to squeeze past the Colts again. This week is basically a must-win for San Diego, which trails Denver by two games in the AFC West with six games to go. If Denver beats Oakland in the afternoon and then the Chargers fall to the Colts, San Diego's chances of winning the division would be faint at best.
It's not going be easy for San Diego. The Chargers' pass defense has been horrible this season and it is ranked last in the NFL. Manning threw for 730 yards in the two games against San Diego last season when the Chargers had a much better defense. He'll come after the Chargers.
San Diego found a way to win two close games against the Colts last year. It will have to try to do the same Sunday night in what is its biggest game of the season thus far.