SDUT: Perfect ending

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#GoIrish #Aztecs #SDGulls #Raiders #THFC #RipCity
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA

By Kevin Acee

December 19, 2005

Bolts' playoff hopes alive after roller-coaster victory

INDIANAPOLIS – A team that plays its best when that is pretty much the only remaining option did so yesterday, again extending the meaning of its season.

The Chargers dominated and then self-destructed and then, finally, picked themselves up off the RCA Dome turf and shoved aside history.

With 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, the Chargers beat the Indianapolis Colts 26-17 in front of 57,389 wild fans who had come in out of the snow to witness something else.

"It was everything," said defensive end Luis Castillo, who had bronchitis and had to be administered oxygen numerous times throughout the game. "To come in here and them being 13-0 and after our disappointing loss last week. We had the early lead. We let it slip away. To come back and be able to stop them again and again – oh, what a day."

Shawne Merriman terrorized. Nate Kaeding was clutch. Drew Brees rebounded. Michael Turner made like the man he replaced.

The list went on.

"Just a heck of a team effort all around," Brees said.

With a fourth quarter that was utterly mad, the Chargers overcame a one-point deficit and put a stop to the Colts' momentous run toward an undefeated season.

With a run of their own to be concerned with – a hopeful thrust to the playoffs – the Chargers (9-5) paused only briefly to consider their place in ruining the Colts' march.

"That's nice," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "But it could have been any team we played today. We just want to get to the playoffs."

More about the playoffs later.

First, the events that brought yesterday's game to a conclusion require rumination.

The Chargers held the Colts scoreless in three quarters, which equaled the total number of quarters Indianapolis had trailed in its previous 11 games. When Keenan McCardell's 29-yard touchdown reception put the Chargers ahead in the first quarter, it was the first time the Colts had trailed in nine games. And when the Colts did not score in the first quarter, it brought to an end an NFL-record string of 31 straight quarters in which they had scored.

Three Kaeding field goals followed, and the Chargers led 16-0.

But that lead was let go in a flurry of turnovers that allowed the Colts to score 17 third-quarter points, including two touchdowns for which they only had to move a total of 30 yards.

After getting to 16-0, the Chargers managed 32 yards on three drives that ended on an interception, a Brees fumble and a punt.

But, with the Chargers down 17-16 and facing third-and-9 on their 9 with 8:47 left in the game, Brees completed a 54-yard bomb to McCardell. The Chargers' drive stalled a short time later at the Colts' 31. Kaeding's season-long 49-yard field goal put the Chargers back on top, 19-17.

The Colts' Dominic Rhodes fumbled the ensuing kickoff when hit by Matt Wilhelm, and Terrence Kiel recovered at the Colts' 29-yard line.

On the Chargers' second play, Reche Caldwell could not keep a Brees lob to the end zone from being intercepted by Nick Harper, and the Colts got the ball at the 20.

A drive commenced and appeared to be headed toward a score. But a Chargers pass rush that had started so hot and then cooled got its timing back.

On second-and-9, Peyton Manning threw a ball away rather than have Merriman get his third sack of the day. But Manning was called for intentional grounding, making it third-and-21. On that play, Castillo dropped Manning for a 3-yard loss, the Chargers' fourth sack.

The Colts punted.

With LaDainian Tomlinson sidelined with his bruised ribs acting up, Turner lost three yards on the Chargers' next play. On the next play, following a block from Lorenzo Neal, Turner went around the right side and down the sideline for an 83-yard touchdown run that put the Chargers up 26-17 with 2:09 to play.

The Colts moved rapidly down the field before a Manning pass bounced off tight end Dallas Clark's hands and into those of Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer, essentially ending the game with 1:35 to play.

Team President Dean Spanos and General Manager A.J. Smith, among other members of the team's first family and front office staff, watched from the corner of the end zone as the Colts drove in those waning minutes.

After Jammer's interception, Smith and Spanos headed for the locker room entrance, where they would later enthusiastically greet players and coaches.

On the way, Spanos grabbed Smith and hugged him. They walked arm in arm for a time.

"This is unbelievably great," Spanos said, stopping for a moment. "After last week, which was so much of a downer, these guys got ready for this week. I just hope we can get back here for a playoff game."

That is the big if.

The Chargers know that not only do they have to win their remaining games – Saturday at Kansas City and Dec. 31 at home against Denver – they need some good fortune.

"We all know if Pittsburgh and Jacksonville continue to win we're left out in the cold," Tomlinson said. "We could end up 11-5 and no playoffs. Tough AFC, huh?"

Yes, though the Chargers would have no one to blame but themselves. They have lost five games by a total of 14 points, in large part because they were too often unable to do what they did yesterday.

"We've had probably about eight games that have come down to the wire," Brees said. "We've won half and lost half. That's why we're sitting here at 9-5 as opposed to 12-2. . . . Today was one of those days, and hopefully there will be a lot more like this."