|San Diego Chargers||28||24||Indianapolis Colts|
Now San Diego must make sure it doesn’t repeat its last performance at New England.
That will be especially difficult without an injured L.T., who departed in the first half with a bruised left knee, and starting quarterback Rivers, who went out in the third quarter with a damaged right knee in the Chargers’ stunning 28-24 victory Sunday.
With Billy Volek at quarterback and Michael Turner as the main runner, San Diego went 78 yards on eight plays, with Volek sneaking in from the 1 with 4:50 remaining for the lead. The Chargers’ big-play defense then held on downs at its 7, and stopped Indy again in the final moments to preserve their eighth straight win.
To make it nine in a row and advance to their second Super Bowl — the other was a loss to San Francisco after the 1994 season — the Chargers will need all the resourcefulness they showed at Indianapolis. Being undermanned against undefeated New England hardly is an enticing prospect.
Still, with All-Pro cornerback Antonio Cromartie getting an interception and fumble recovery, and linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips plaguing Peyton Manning, the Chargers showed they have the ability to throw off any offense. Maybe even the most prolific attack in NFL history.
The Chargers didn’t come close against the Patriots in Week 2, falling 38-14. That was the beginning of a slide to 5-5 for San Diego, but the Chargers (13-5) are rolling now.
It was a gutty showing by Rivers, who threw for three scores — he banged his right knee on a 56-yard screen pass TD by Darren Sproles to end the third quarter. And Turner, who could be a starter elsewhere but usually sits behind league rushing leader Tomlinson, gave the offense the balance it desperately needed in the late stages of the upset, rushing for 71 yards.
The Chargers’ opportunistic defense, which led the league in takeaways (48) and turnover margin (plus-24), grabbed two interceptions — both on tipped balls — and a fumble. While San Diego couldn’t stop Manning’s offense from steadily marching downfield most of the game, it could make the key plays that get you closer to the Super Bowl.
Still, if Tomlinson is limited or sidelined, how much chance do the Chargers have against the perfect Patriots? Not to mention perhaps missing Rivers or tight end Antonio Gates, who courageously played much of the day on a dislocated toe.
For the Colts (13-4), it was a bitterly quick elimination from the postseason.
A year ago, they won three playoff games, then beat Chicago in the Super Bowl. They couldn’t recapture their touch on offense or defense this time, and a defense that allowed the fewest points during the season wore down against the equally physical Chargers.
Manning did throw for 402 yards, completing 33 of his 48 throws, but both interceptions killed deep scoring threats.
Rivers was 14-of-19 for 264 yards, and Volek went 3-of-4 for 48 yards in his clutch relief role. Vincent Jackson became Rivers’ top target and had seven catches for 93 yards and a score.