28 - 24 Final
  for this game

Volek, Chargers jolt Colts

Jan 14, 2008 - 2:15 AM
INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Hobbled and shorthanded, the San Diego Chargers still managed to end the reign of the Indianapolis Colts.

Backup quarterback Billy Volek scored on a sneak for the go-ahead touchdown and the Chargers twice turned away the Colts in the final three minutes to post a stunning 28-24 victory over the defending Super Bowl champions Sunday.

Despite losing 2006 Most Valuable Player LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers to knee injuries, San Diego rallied from behind on four occasions to earn a berth in next week's AFC championship game at the unbeaten New England Patriots.

"There's a mind-set in our league that our guys play good and are front-runners," first-year Chargers coach Norv Turner said, "but when the going gets tough, when they play a good team, or when things get challenging, they don't rise to the occasion. I think we've put that one to rest. I think that one's done.

"We've got some guys that compete and fight and scatch and claw as good as I've ever been around."

In winning their eighth consecutive game, the Chargers (13-5) overcame 402 yards passing and three touchdowns from Peyton Manning to beat the Colts (13-4) for the second time this season.

"It was a gutty performance by the whole team," Rivers said. "There were a lot of guys out there playing their heart out. Nobody gave us a shot. All of the preview shows were saying, 'Can't wait for Indy vs. New England.'

"We just had ourselves in the locker room, just like when we were 1-3. We believed it and we kept playing and now here we are."

Tomlinson left the game early in the second quarter and Rivers was injured on the final play of the third quarter. San Diego also had to overcome a dislocated toe injury to Antonio Gates, which limited the Pro Bowl tight end to two catches for 28 yards.

"There are a lot of disappointed guys (in our locker room), including me," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "But you have to give a ton of credit to San Diego. They came in with real adversity. One of their big-time players (Gates) was hurt, then they lose Tomlinson, their quarterback goes out, and they find the ways to make the plays to win it. We weren't quite sharp enough."

The Chargers' reserves stepped up to fill the void. Michael Turner, Tomlinson's backup, rushed for 71 yards on 17 carries and running back Darren Sproles took Rivers' final pass of the game and bolted 56 yards to give the Chargers a 21-17 lead entering the final quarter.

That was just one of a series of big plays in a thrilling second half that featured three touchdowns of at least 30 yards and five lead changes.

Manning answered Sproles' score with his third TD pass of the day, a 55-yarder to rookie Anthony Gonzalez, to put the Colts ahead, 24-21, with just over 10:07 to play.

That put the onus squarely on San Diego's defense and Volek, who had attempted just 10 passes this season and not started a game since the 2005 season with the Tennessee Titans.

"That's part of it," Norv Turner said. "No one put their head down and our guys kept fighting. We had a lot of guys, in all three phases, make big-time contributions to this win. LT and Philip both got banged up, both of them knees, and both will be questionable. We'll see how they are through the rest of the week."

Volek responded masterfully to the challenge, moving the Chargers 78 yards in eight plays for the winning touchdown. The 31-year-old career backup had passes of 15 yards to Chris Chambers and 27 to rookie Legedu Naanee.

Turner then added three straight runs before Volek scored from 1 yard out to make it 28-24 with 5:17 remaining.

"When you hit or complete the first pass, the butterflies kind of go," Volek said.

"It was great - a playoff atmosphere, a hostile crowd and environment," Michael Turner said. "It was great to go out there, have some fun and play some football."

Manning, who finished 33-of-48 for 402 yards, three TDs and two interceptions, had two chances to rally the Colts but was denied both times by the Chargers' defense.

On 4th-and-goal at the 7-yard line, Manning threw incomplete under a heavy rush from linebacker Shawne Merriman with 2:01 left.

"San Diego kind of mixes up their defenses down there," Manning said. "I can't remember any specific thing they did to stop us. They just do a good job down in the red zone."

After San Diego went three-and-out, the Colts got the ball back with 1:30 to play at their own 32-yard line but could not even manage a first down.

Chargers safety Marlon McCree delivered a crushing hit to separate Reggie Wayne from the ball on third down, and Manning floated a pass beyond the reach of tight end Dallas Clark on fourth down, allowing San Diego to run out the clock.

"I just couldn't make the catch," Clark said. "It's very annoying, but that's the way it goes. It's a playoff game and it's unfortunate to have this be the last one in this building. You'd obviously like to go out on a better note, but we weren't able to do that."

Rivers was 14-of-19 for 264 yards with three touchdowns and a pick for the Chargers, who will get a rematch against the Patriots after having lost, 38-14, in Week Two. The Patriots also upset the Chargers in the divisional playoffs last season.

Indianapolis got a huge break in the final seconds of the first half. Leading 10-7, the Colts were driving for more points when Antonio Cromartie picked off Manning and brought it back 89 yards for an apparent touchdown with just three seconds left.

But Chargers safety Eric Weddle was flagged for holding on the return, negating the score and enabling the Colts to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room.

That could have been a deflating blow for the visitors, but San Diego took the opening kickoff of the second half and went ahead on Rivers' 30-yard touchdown pass to Chambers.

Indy regained the lead on Manning's 9-yard scoring pass to Wayne with 3:02 left in the quarter but the Chargers responded when Sproles took a screen pass from Rivers and zipped down the left sideline 56 yards.

"That play just came at the right time," Sproles said. "We saw that the backside safety had dropped down and, when he threw it, it was off to the races after that."

Rivers appeared to be untouched on the play but landed awkwardly and limped off the field.

"It's nothing with the left knee," Rivers said. "It was an injury from Tennessee and I'm not sure how it happened, but it's fine."

Tomlinson's injury was called a bruise. The league's MVP last season said he thought he could have returned but the knee tightened up on him.

The Colts went through the Chargers with ease on the opening possession of the game.

Manning completed all six of his pass attempts on the drive, capping it with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Clark.

After an interception by Kelvin Hayden stopped San Diego's first drive, the Colts appeared ready to pad their lead until a surprise fumble by Marvin Harrison at the Chargers 22-yard line with 22 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Seeing his first action since missing the final 10 games of the regular season, Harrison suffered just his ninth lost fumble in his 12-year career.

San Diego capitalized on the turnover and went 78 yards in 10 plays to tie it at 7-7 on Rivers' 14-yard scoring pass to Vincent Jackson. Rivers was 4-of-4 for 64 yards on the drive.

The Colts went ahead, 10-7, on Adam Vinatieri's 47-yard field goal with 5:10 left in the half. It was Vinatieri's first connection of at least 40 yards this season.