17 - 23 Final
  for this game

Chargers jolt Colts in OT

Jan 4, 2009 - 7:56 AM
SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- Darren Sproles more than filled LaDainian Tomlinson's shoes.

Sproles sprinted 22 yards for a touchdown with 8:40 to play in overtime, lifting the San Diego Chargers to a 23-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday in an AFC wild card game.

With All-Pro running back Tomlinson forced out of the game early in the second quarter with a groin injury, the diminutive Sproles stood tall, rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns while catching five passes for 45 yards.

"You know, when your number is called, you have to be ready," said Sproles, whose late heroics atoned for a costly fumble at the goal line in the third quarter. "You just have to step up and help this team."

Sproles also returned four kicks and three punts while amassing 328 all-purpose yards - the third-highest total in playoff history.

"He was unbelievable all night," San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said of Sproles.

The first team to win a division title with a .500 record since 1985, the AFC West champion Chargers (9-8) won their fifth consecutive game to earn a trip to either No. 1 seed Tennessee or No. 2 Pittsburgh in next weekend's divisional playoff round.

"Each game we're getting stronger, we're getting better, mentally tougher, all the things you need so we can continue playing," Chargers coach Norv Turner said.

Rivers threw for 217 yards on 20-of-26 passing and an interception for San Diego, which avenged a 23-20 home loss to Indianapolis in the regular season, snapped the Colts' nine-game winning streak and knocking Peyton Manning and company out of the playoffs for the second straight season.

Manning completed 25-of-42 passes for 310 yards and one touchdown, but other than a long scoring toss to Reggie Wayne, he struggled in the second half and barely avoided a safety in the final minutes when he was sacked at the 1-yard line.

"It's disappointing to lose a playoff game, especially a game you had some chances to win," Manning said. "The Chargers made the plays when it counted. Give them credit. It's obviously a disappointing loss.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game, a close game. We've been winning those fourth-quarter games. Today, the Chargers just did a better job executing."

After being turned away twice in the second half on a fumble and an interception, San Diego finally pulled even at 17-17 on Nate Kaeding's 26-yard field goal with 31 seconds left in regulation.

The Chargers won the coin flip in overtime and quickly moved downfield, helped by three penalties on the Colts - two for holding and a face-mask infraction against Clint Sessions that set up 1st-and-10 at the 20-yard line.

Two players later, the 5-6 Sproles darted down the left sideline and into the end zone, giving San Diego its fourth win against the Colts in the last five meetings.

"Obviously, a disappointed group in our locker room," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We played hard - very hard - but we didn't play well enough to win. ... San Diego played great. They have a lot of talent."

The Chargers, who carried a 14-10 lead into halftime, had to overcome a series of blunders in the second half.

Manning caught the defense napping while trying to make multiple substitutions midway through the third quarter when he found Wayne all alone down the left sideline for a 17-14 lead.

San Diego answered right back after the scoring pass, driving down the field only to see Sproles fumble into the end zone from the 1-yard line. Indianapolis' Raheem Brock recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

"There wasn't any doubt in my mind that he was going to make a big play that was going to affect this game," Turner said of Sproles after the fumble.

On their next possession, the Chargers were on the move again before Antoine Bethea picked off Rivers in the end zone to thwart another opportunity.

Yet Indianapolis could not deny resilient San Diego, which had lost four games in the last 24 seconds this season and became the first team in league history to snatch a playoff berth after starting a campaign 4-8.

"We've been through a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs," Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "We were on a roller-coaster all season. We just had to get it back in order. I truly believe our best football is ahead of us."

Manning was perfect on the Colts' first scoring drive, connecting on all six passes for 81 yards before Joseph Addai capped it with a 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 2:59 left in the opening quarter.

The Chargers slowly turned the momentum in their favor thanks to the punting of Mike Scifres, who averaged 56.5 yards on four boots in the first half, twice pinning the Colts inside the 10-yard line.

"Without him today I think we have a real hard time winning the football game," Kaeding said of Scifres.

San Diego held Indianapolis to a pair of three-and-outs on both possessions, setting up two short touchdown drives.

On the first, the Chargers needed just four plays to tie the game. Tomlinson scampered around the left side for 3 yards to knot it at 7-7 with 10:15 left in the half but left the game for good after the score.

After the Colts inched in front, 10-7, on a 43-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri, a 67-yard punt by Scifres again buried Indianapolis in the shadow of its goal line.

"The punter, give him credit," Manning said. "We you get backed up the idea is to get a first down and try to change your field position. We weren't able to do that as much as we would have liked."

This time, San Diego needed just six plays to go in front. Rivers hit Chris Chambers for completions of 13 and 11 yards to set up Sproles' 9-yard scoring run for a 14-10 lead with 42 seconds to go in the half.