Nobody's Perfect

13-0 Colts rally, but Chargers' big finish ends Indy's quest

Chargers 26 Colts 17


Nfl Week 15


INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts appeared ready to spit on fate yesterday.

They had trailed by 16 points in the third quarter to a team that needed to win more. Peyton Manning hadn't found the gaps in San Diego's defense, and Chargers quarterback Drew Brees was busy shredding the Colts with short passes.

But after forcing two turnovers and scoring two quick touchdowns, the Colts still led in their quest to become the second undefeated team in NFL history. Then, San Diego snatched the game back.

The Chargers drove for a field goal, stopped a Colts drive and then sealed the game when backup runner Michael Turner galloped 83 yards down the sideline.

A throbbing sellout crowd of 57,389 fell stone silent as Turner reached the end zone at the RCA Dome.

Somewhere, Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield and the rest of the 1972 Miami Dolphins smiled as another team's quest for perfection fell short. With the 26-17 loss to San Diego, the Colts joined the 1934 Chicago Bears and the 1998 Denver Broncos as teams that started 13-0 before faltering.

"Our guys wanted to stay undefeated; they wanted to go 16-0," said Colts coach Tony Dungy. "But these guys just outplayed us."

Manning agreed. "San Diego beat us first and foremost," he said. "They came in with a very good plan."

The Chargers sacked Manning four times, intercepted him twice and held the Colts to 24 yards rushing.

"I think our defense did a marvelous, marvelous job," said coach Marty Schottenheimer.

Schottenheimer added that he had spoken to Don Shula, coach of the 1972 Dolphins, just after the game. "He was excited," Schottenheimer said with a grin.

Brees downplayed the ending of the streak.

"Guys were excited, but really, we expected to come in here and do this," Brees said. "They have a heck of a football team, and I feel like so do we."

Would Dungy play his starters most of the way? That was the question on the lips of the media and fans all week. He did, but the Chargers rendered that answer meaningless with a strong all-around performance.

San Diego needed a win to stay in the thick of the AFC wild-card battle.

And the Chargers' offense has ranked just behind Indianapolis in yards and points per game. The teams played a 34-31 overtime shootout, won by the Colts, near the end of last season.

San Diego bolted to the start it wanted, sacking Manning on the Colts' first offensive play. A Colts punt left the Chargers on the Indianapolis 42. Brees then hit receiver Eric Parker for a fourth-down conversion and on the next snap, found Keenan McCardell streaking across the middle for a 29-yard touchdown.

The Chargers appeared to blow a golden opportunity when cornerback Drayton Florence intercepted Manning in Indianapolis territory but then fumbled.

The Chargers quickly stuffed the Colts, however, and Parker made a terrific 49-yard catch between two defenders to put San Diego back in scoring position. A 36-yard field goal gave the Chargers a 10-0 lead.

The Colts' vaunted offense failed to make a first down on its first three possessions. Manning appeared to have the Chargers figured out on his team's fourth possession but was ripped to the ground on an awkward fourth-down rollout at the goal line.

San Diego added another field goal for a 13-0 lead at halftime.

Brees, something of an Indiana hero from his days at Purdue, played one of the best halves of his career, completing 16 of 21 for 191 yards and a touchdown.

The San Diego quarterback made his worst throw of the game in the third quarter, lobbing the ball right to Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, who returned it 19 yards to the Chargers' 26. Manning then hit Marvin Harrison for a 25-yard gain and Edgerrin James scored from the 1. The extra point brought the Colts within six.

On San Diego's next possession, Brees was sacked and lost a fumble at his 4-yard line. Manning hit tight end Dallas Clark in the back of the end zone to give Indianapolis its first lead.

Brees hardly folded. After an exchange of punts, he rolled away from pressure at his own goal line to complete a 54-yarder to McCardell. "That was the play of the game," Dungy said.

The pass set up a 49-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding that gave the lead back to San Diego.

The Chargers recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff only to see Brees toss an interception in the end zone. The Colts then drove to the San Diego 23. But the Chargers' pass rush forced Manning into an intentional grounding violation and then sacked him. The Colts punted rather than try a 55-yard field goal.

Turner then broke loose for his 83-yard scamper.

The Colts have become accustomed to national scrutiny, with scores of out-of-town reporters swooping in for every game. But now, Indianapolis is just another excellent team looking to win the Super Bowl.

"It'll probably make some decisions a little easier and remove some of the outside media," Dungy said. "But really, it was a fantastic streak and nobody wanted it to end."

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