Chargers rout Peyton, Colts
Peyton Manning blamed himself for the Colts' mistakes. The Chargers took credit for forcing him into them.
Either way, it was the same lousy result for Indianapolis' suddenly struggling quarterback.
San Diego intercepted him four times, returning two for scores, and handed Indianapolis its worst home loss of the Manning era, 36-14, on Sunday.
''The defense was awesome,'' Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. ''Getting two defensive touchdowns was obviously huge, and they played well all night.''
Sunday's game fit right into this rivalry's recent trend.
San Diego (6-5) has beaten Manning's Colts five times in six games, including twice in the playoffs. Three years ago, the Chargers picked off Manning six times - the most in his career. For the first time in Manning's 13 NFL seasons, he has thrown a combined seven interceptions in back-to-back weeks.
Colts fans were so incredulous at the poor play that they headed for the exits with about 10 minutes left.
But the Chargers had plenty of work still to do. The team that ruined Indy's quest for perfection in 2005 and dethroned the defending Super Bowl champs in the 2007 playoffs ended the NFL's longest run of consecutive 12-win seasons at seven. Plus, San Diego climbed over the .500 mark for the first time all season and kept pace in the AFC West race, one game behind Kansas City.
''At 2-5, a lot of teams would have thrown in the towel,'' Rivers said. ''We've got a group of resilient guys, tough guys that really play together and really believe in one another. We weren't going to let this thing get away from us. Now, we're right here in the hunt.''
While the Chargers are primed to make a playoff run, Indy's struggles have raised red flags.
Yes, the Colts (6-5) are still tied with Jacksonville for the AFC South lead, but they've lost three of four and the rash of injuries has taken a major toll on the offense. Manning played again without receiver Austin Collie, without running back Joseph Addai and without starting tight ends Dallas Clark and Brody Eldridge, and it showed.
Coach Jim Caldwell blamed the miscues — five turnovers in all — on a combination of factors, including poor pass protection and a nonexistent running game. Indy netted only 24 yards rushing against the Chargers' No. 1 ranked defense.
And Manning wasn't himself, either. He finished 31 of 48 for 285 with two TDs and the third four-interception game of his career. The last came in San Diego in November 2007.
''San Diego did a good job,'' Manning said. ''Offensively, we didn't do a real good job. I didn't do a real good job. Everybody needs to play better, I need to play better, our execution needs to improve.''
Manning is ready to move to the head of the line after this debacle.
After throwing a 5-yard TD pass to Jacob Tamme on the Colts' opening drive and watching San Diego counter with a 28-yard field goal, Manning tried to connect with Reggie Wayne by fitting a pass between three defenders.
Kevin Burnett made a leaping catch and sprinted 29 yards to give the Chargers a 10-7 lead.
''Poor decision,'' Manning said. ''That's something I have to avoid. So poor throw, poor decision.''
Stephen Cooper picked off Manning again early in the second quarter, setting up a 33-yard field goal that made it 13-7, and Manning got the Colts back into it when he connected with Blair White on a 6-yard TD pass to make it 16-14 with 22 seconds left in the half.
After that, nothing went right for the Colts.
Kaeding opened the second half with a 30-yard field goal, and Eric Weddle picked off Manning and returned it 41 yards for a TD to make it 26-14. Fans booed, thinking Weddle shoved Wayne to the ground before the ball arrived. Wayne and Manning complained to the officials.
''It was a bad call, plain and simple,'' Caldwell said. ''I don't know how to dance around it any other way.''
But the Chargers refused to let Manning make one of his patented comebacks.
Mike Tolbert scored on a 3-yard run with 11:26 to go, sealing the victory, and Kaeding added his fifth field goal of the night to close it out. Tolbert carried 26 times for 103 yards with one TD.
Rivers was 19 of 23 for 185 yards with no touchdowns and, unlike Manning, no interceptions.
''I think all of our guys understand now that you've got to protect the ball,'' coach Norv Turner said. ''You've got to be sound in the kicking game and we can't give up big plays on defense.''
They gave up nothing Sunday night.
Notes: San Diego WR Vincent Jackson's season debut was a short one. He strained a calf muscle on the Chargers' opening series and did not return. Turner said he did not expect Jackson to miss a lot of time. ... Tolbert also left during the first half with what appeared to be a left hand injury. ... The banged-up Colts took a couple of more hits Sunday. Wayne was shaken up with 2:45 left, and starting cornerback Kelvin Hayden also was hurt in the closing minutes. Both players left walked off the field without help. ... It was Indy's most lopsided home loss since a 31-3 rout by Seattle on Sept. 14, 1997. Indy had won 19 of its last 20 home games, the only loss coming after the Colts pulled their starters against the New York Jets last December.