I’ve been hearing a lot of talk lately about how the Chargers have the Colts’ “number” and, come playoff time, the Colts should be afraid of the Chargers. In fact, last Sunday night, former head coach of the Colts,Tony Dungy, even echoed those sentiments.
An important point to stress to Coach Dungy, and every other person in the media, is that every year in the NFL is a new year, and each team is different from last year’s team, even if 90% of the players are the same.
In the NFL, the past is no true gauge of the future. If it were, then right now the Falcons, Ravens, and Titans would all have winning records, and Tom Brady would be on his way to another 50-touchdown season.
Having said that, it is important to understand that, even though the Chargers and Colts have met seven times during the Manning era, and the Colts have won only three of those meetings, the losses were in no way blowouts (which, by the way, refutes this silly notion that the Chargers have the “Colts’ “number”).
Of all the times the Colts and Chargers have met, the December 26, 2004 game is the best example of how, in the blink of an eye, Peyton Manning can win a game and make history, and it’s the best object lesson on why the media and Chargers’ fans should not be so confident about the Chargers’ chances against the Colts in any playoffs games this season.
December 26, 2004:
This game has to go down as an all-time classic in the matchups between the Colts and the Chargers.
The Colts came into this game on a seven-game winning streak, and Manning only needed two touchdowns to break Dan Marino’s 20-year-old record of 48 touchdowns in one season.
However, this game didn’t go like most of the games had gone for the Colts that season. In the majority of that season’s games, the Colts were an offensive juggernaut that completely dominated their opponents.
On this day, though, the Chargers had no intention of having Manning break Marino’s record against them. On this day, the Chargers’ meant to keep points at a premium for Manning and the Colts.
To their credit, the Chargers almost succeeded; for three and a half quarters the Chargers defense confused Manning, bringing blitzes, extra defensive backs, jamming the receivers, and disrupting their routes. Manning was shaken, out-of-sync, off-target, and just plain confused-looking.
The Chargers’ defense sacked Manning four times, intercepted the ball, and caused two forced fumbles. On that day, you would never have believed that Manning was playing with three receivers who were all to have over 1,000 receiving yards and at least ten touchdowns apiece that season.
Instead, on that day, for the majority of the game, the Colts could do little more than score field goals.
Meanwhile, while Indy’s offense was sputtering, the Chargers’ offense was on a roll, scoring touchdowns and putting up points. By the middle of the third quarter, the Chargers had scored 24 points, dwarfing the Colts’ measly nine points.
It looked like the tide might be starting to turn for the Colts when the offense went on a 72-yard drive which culminated in a touchdown pass from Manning to James Mungro; this was Manning’s first TD of the day, and his 48th of the season (tying Dan Marino’s record). Suddenly the Colts were only down by eight points.
However, the Chargers immediately regained their point cushion by starting the fourth quarter with a 16-yard TD run from L.T., making the score 31-16.
But the Colts weren’t done yet. In fact, they had just started for the day.
First, Dominic Rhodes had an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. With that score, the Colts edged ever closer to the Chargers. Suddenly, the score was 31-23.
Still, the game seemed under control for the Chargers. With only 4:47 left on the clock, having held Manning to only one touchdown for the day, and pretty much dominating the Colts, things still looked good for the Chargers.
Against a normal team, with a normal quarterback who, admittedly. was having a bad day, most fans would feel pretty good about their teams’ chances of winning the game; but this was no normal team, and this certainly was not a typical quarterback.
At 4:47, Manning was facing a fourth and four from his own 25-yard line. Most coaches in this situation would call in the punting unit, and hope their defense could get the ball back; however, this wasn’t most teams and this certainly wasn’t most quarterbacks.
Manning, well known for his moxie, waved off the punting unit, and hooked up with Reggie Wayne for a 19-yard completion down the field. Next came back-to-back completions to Clark and Harrison, and then the record breaking catch by Brandon Stokley in the end zone for Manning’s 49th touchdown of the season.
After all that was a run by the “Edge” for the two-point conversion. In what seemed like a matter of moments, Manning had driven the Colts 75 yards and tied the game at 31-31.
The game went into overtime and, after another 61-yard drive by Manning, Vanderjagt (affectionately dubbed "our drunk idiot kicker " by Manning) kicked the winning field goal.
Most Colts fans, so preoccupied with the Colts-Patriots rivalry, don’t realize what a great rivalry there is between the Chargers and the Colts. Most of the games between the two teams this decade have been this thrilling. However, none are as special for Colts fans as this one, and that is why it is deserving of particular attention as we look back on Manning’s brilliant career.
The Colts may very well play the Chargers in the playoffs this year, and all those in the media who are saying that this is the team that the Colts don’t want to see in the playoffs would do well to pause a second and remember that 2004 game.
Next, they might want to consider that Manning has actually gotten better since then.
This season, as he breaks a record in practically every game he plays and is headed for a historical fourth league MVP, I doubt that he fears playing the Chargers.
Manning now has 40 fourth quarter comebacks (only seven away from the great John Elway), and has proven that he only needs 14 minutes and 53 seconds to win a game.
As a team, the Colts have shown that, in every game they played this year, “quit” is not in their vocabulary. They are fearless and no team scares them. They just go out and play 60 minutes of Colts football and they WIN.
This team, with all its flaws, has that intangible quality that only winners have. No one can name it, but you know it when you see it. Maybe, as I said before, we should just say, “They Have The Will To Win!”
Instead, maybe the media should be asking if this is the one team that the Chargers don’t want to see in the playoffs.
If it’s the Colts and the Chargers in the playoffs, and it’s fourth and two, on the 25-yard line, with the Colts down by 17 and three minutes to go, and Manning waves off the punting unit, just remember: this isn’t the Patriots you’re playing, and Manning and the Colts are right where they shine the brightest.