Week 15 Game Recap: San Diego Chargers 26, Indianapolis Colts 17
What you need to know
RB LaDainian Tomlinson endured another pedestrian performance. We told you last week that something didn’t look right, and today he remained on the sidelines late in the game with the outcome still in the balance. His replacement Michael Turner broke loose for an 83 yard touchdown run to pretty much seal the win. We’ll continue to keep you posted throughout the week on Tomlinson’s status, but HC Marty Schottenheimer said after the game that Tomlinson was still dealing with his bruised ribs and that the injury was not serious. Still, even with the vote of confidence – if you’re a Tomlinson owner, you’d do well to add Turner if you have the roster space. And if you do not have the roster space, find it.
As noted, RB Michael Turner entered the game for Tomlinson for good in the fourth quarter. He broke free for an 83 yard touchdown up the right sideline (one of the only times San Diego attempted an outside run all game long) that all but wrapped up the win.
QB Drew Brees opened up the game on fire, outplaying even the great Peyton Manning. He hit a terrible patch during the third quarter during which he was intercepted and fumbled, with both turnovers leading to Indianapolis scores. Brees rebounded in the fourth quarter to lead San Diego on the game-winning field goal drive.
A couple of streaks fell for the Colts besides just the win streak. The team hadn’t trailed in 444:03 entering the game before San Diego took an early lead. Additionally, the Colts’ 31 quarter scoring streak was snapped as well.
The Colts’ star players all played the entire game, and clearly wanted an undefeated season. Starting RT Ryan Diem left the game with a knee injury and did not return. There were several other injury scares to Reggie Wayne, Larry Triplett, and Dwight Freeney, but none of those appear serious.
QB Peyton Manning was under constant pressure for pretty much the entire first half. After some halftime adjustments, he came out looking much better in the second half.
Fantasy owners who were leery of starting Edgerrin James at RB had their fears realized when he managed just 45 total yards for the game. He did salvage a decent effort with a touchdown, though.
Both starting wideouts, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, reached the 1,000 yard plateau. It was Wayne’s second straight 1,000 yard campaign, and Harrison’s seventh in a row. The two combined for 18 receptions and 226 yards in this game, appearing nearly uncoverable at times.
What you ought to know
|QB Drew Brees, Pass: 22 - 33 - 255 - 1 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0|
Brees opened the scoring with a long pass play to Keenan McCardell for a touchdown. On the play, Brees used a pump-fake to the right before throwing back down the seam for the score. Brees has become extremely adept at using the pump-fake, and is certainly one of the best in the league at utilizing it. In addition to the touchdown, San Diego came out throwing the ball almost non-stop. The Colts appeared content with stopping Tomlinson and letting Brees beat them. And, for a time, he did just that. Even though the Chargers weren’t scoring touchdowns (Brees threw incomplete to Antonio Gates late in the second quarter on third and goal from the 4, and San Diego settled for a field goal), they were marching downfield for points and had compiled a 16-0 advantage late in the third quarter. That’s when things started to go wrong. First, he was hurried and intercepted in San Diego territory. That led to an Edgerrin James touchdown. Then on the next possession, he fumbled inside the five yard line and the Colts recovered it. This led to a Dallas Clark touchdown. The Colts turned a 16-3 deficit into a 17-16 lead within a span of three minutes thanks to two costly turnovers. Even in the fourth quarter when the Chargers caught a break (fumbled kick return), Brees gave the gift right back to the Colts when he was intercepted in the end zone. He made up for that later on, though. Just as the Colts appeared ready to put the game away, Brees made his most important completion of the year. With 8:47 left to play and facing a third and nine from his own nine yard line, he completed a 54 yard pass to a streaking Keenan McCardell. A faster receiver may have scored on the play, but regardless it was a huge play in the game. Brees’ ability to remain calm and cool even with the season on the line was outstanding, and he really rallied the team with LaDainian Tomlinson on the bench with an injury.
We warned you a week ago to keep an eye on Tomlinson’s injury situation, as he looked less than 100% last week against Miami. Not only did Tomlinson struggle again today; he was actually out of the game late in the fourth quarter as his team tried to seal the win. HC Marty Schottenheimer said afterwards that the bruised rib injury was not serious, but you aren’t going to find many tougher players than Tomlinson. If he was not in the game, you can bet the injury was painful. Tomlinson had two great scoring chances, coming on back-to-back carries late in the first half. He was given a first down carry from the four yard line and taken down at the two. He carried again on second down, but was stuffed for no gain. Following an incomplete pass to Antonio Gates on third down, Tomlinson never got close to the end zone again. Curiously, all but one of Tomlinson’s 24 carries went straight up the middle into the belly of the Colts’ defense. Michael Turner’s 83 yard touchdown scamper went outside to the right, the first time the Chargers called such a play all game long. That’s not to say Tomlinson would have definitely scored had they called it for him, but it was curious that they continued using him almost as a battering ram considering his painful rib injury.
Turner was the hero of the game for the Chargers, filling in more than admirably for superstar LaDainian Tomlinson. Turner was having his typical solid game in spot duty, with seven carries for 30 yards late in the game as the Chargers tried running out the clock. Rather than run out the clock, Turner broke one loose up the right sideline for an 83 yard touchdown. It was one of the only outside runs by the Chargers, and THE only time San Diego ran to the right the entire game. We’ve been telling you for weeks that it would be wise for Tomlinson owners to handcuff him to Turner, as evidenced below:
Week 4 @ NE: Turner turned quite a few heads with his performance in this game. His carries weren’t simply “garbage time” rushes, either. He was in there during crunch time as well, and performed extremely well… Tomlinson owners got a glimpse of how Turner would do in the event that Tomlinson were to miss any time. While he’s clearly no Tomlinson, Turner showed he could hold his own when given a shot.
Week 6 @ OAK: Turner once again got a decent sample of carries, and again responded with an excellent effort…Watching him run, he appears to have terrific balance. He almost never is tackled on the first hit, and the team doesn’t seem to miss a beat when he comes in to run.
Week 11 vs. BUF: Obviously, Tomlinson owners don’t want to think about worst-case scenarios, but if one has the roster space, it might be a good idea to ensure having Turner on your roster. He’s no Tomlinson, but he has gotten the job done in his limited duty thus far.
We hope Tomlinson doesn’t have to miss any time, and right now his status for next week is up in the air. But whether or not you are a Tomlinson owner, if you have the opportunity to add Turner we suggest you do so – either to use him for yourself, or to keep him away from an opponent.
Caldwell’s production came mostly after Eric Parker left the game with a foot injury. There wasn’t much production to speak of, with just 25 yards receiving. However, Caldwell is almost fully recovered from his ACL tear last year and if Parker were forced to miss any time, Caldwell would move into the starting lineup opposite Keenan McCardell. He did display excellent hands on a third down reception midway through the second quarter, and barely missed out on a score late in the fourth quarter when he mistimed his leap in the end zone. The ball sailed just over his hands and into the waiting arms of Nick Harper for an interception.
McCardell got the scoring going early with a wide open 29 yard grab down the seam. He wasn’t looked to much after that point, but he was targeted on one of the game’s biggest players midway through the fourth quarter. On a third and nine, McCardell beat two Colts defenders down the field for a 54 yard reception. Had McCardell been a bit faster or the ball been thrown a bit more out in front, he may have taken it for a 91 yard score. As it is, it helped set up the go ahead and eventual game winning field goal for San Diego. After the Eric Parker injury, McCardell returned punts for the Chargers.
Parker had a huge fourth down reception on the Chargers’ second drive of the game, enduring a hard hit in the process but hanging onto the ball. Keenan McCardell later scored a touchdown on that drive. Parker later made a spectacular 49 yard reception in double coverage, but landed awkwardly. He immediately left the game with a foot injury and did not return. If he is to miss time next week, Reche Caldwell would move into the starting lineup and Vincent Jackson would see a role increase.
Jackson caught an important third down conversion on the game’s opening drive, showing great hands in traffic. He later made another grab and was taken down at the 4 yard line. Jackson is extremely talented, but also extremely raw. With the injury to Eric Parker, Jackson may be in line for an increased role in the offense. He’s not someone to rely upon for right now, but this could be a good opportunity to get a look at him for down the line. He has a chance to be an impact player several years from now.
Gates was heavily involved early on, with nine of his eleven targets coming before halftime. He wasn’t doing much with the opportunities, as most of his routes called for the big tight end to simply sit down in a soft spot of the defense. He didn’t have much room to roam, and was only thrown to downfield a couple of times. The Chargers tried splitting him out wide, with no success. Gates was the target of a third down pass in the end zone that was thrown to high for him to come down with. On a couple of early passes, Gates and Brees seemed to be on different pages offensively. In “Madden” terms, Gates ‘zigged’ when he was maybe supposed to have ‘zagged’. It was simply a quiet game for him, and not indicative of a 1,000 yard receiver (a mark the big tight end reached in the game).
San Diego did perhaps its best job of the year defending the run. Reason being, they were facing arguably the best back they’ve faced all season long in Edgerrin James. And, they didn’t completely sell out on the run at the expense of allowing passing yards (except on the Dallas Clark touchdown). Yes, the Chargers gave up yards through the air but it wasn’t because they were committing any extra resources to stop James. The defensive front did a good enough job that the linebackers could focus on attacking Manning or dropping into coverage on occasion. The top-ranked run defense in the NFL maintained that ranking, allowing the Colts just 24 yards on the ground. The only touchdown came after a pass put Indianapolis at the 1, and James plunged in from a yard out.
The Chargers came out firing in this phase, attacking Manning from all angles and never allowing the QB to get into a rhythm in the first half. Manning was sacked, hurried, hit, and generally bewildered as Shawne Merriman, Randall Godfrey, and Luis Castillo basically teed off at will. The second half was a different story. Once again, the defensive backs of San Diego were the team’s weakness, as both Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne consistently found holes downfield. Harrison was particularly adept at getting open against the Charger DBs; as he was wide open on several occasions for long gains. The Chargers were bailed out late by a couple of dropped balls on the Colts, as well as several timely sacks that knocked the Colts out of field goal range on their next-to-last possession. San Diego’s pass rush was fierce all game long, particularly rookie Shawne Merriman. He was all over the field and harassed Peyton Manning from the outset, sacking him on the Colts’ first offensive play of the game. The defensive backs were another story. They intercepted Manning twice, both easy catches where the ball was batted up in the air and right into their hands. On the first interception, Drayton Florence took off upfield and tried to get as many yards as he could. In doing so, he fumbled the ball away and the Colts re-recovered, giving them a first down. Florence also dropped a sure interception at the five yard line, allowing the pass to fall incomplete. CB Quentin Jammer was abused for much of the game by veteran wideout Marvin Harrison. Harrison appeared to be toying with the young DB at times, getting open pretty much at will. Castillo was seen on the sidelines, having trouble getting oxygen at one point. He certainly wasn’t winded from sprinting off the field between plays, though. On a defensive substitution in the first half, Manning quick-snapped with Castillo slowly jogging off. The Chargers were called for twelve men on the field, enabling the Colts drive to continue. It was more a heady play by Manning than a knock on Castillo, but the rookie was still in the wrong. LB Donnie Edwards showed the young rookie how to not lollygag on a play when he chased down WR Reggie Wayne on a reception in the second quarter. Wayne was tackled at the one, and the Colts were unable to score at all on the drive (San Diego stopped the Colts and sacked Manning on a fourth and goal from the one).
|QB Peyton Manning, Pass: 26 - 45 - 336 - 1 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 2 - -1 - 0|
Manning started slowly, mostly due to the unexpectedly intense pressure he faced from the Chargers front. He was sacked on the first play of the game, and it didn’t get much better from there. The Chargers got to him early and often, and he suffered several huge hits at the hands of San Diego defenders. Both of his interceptions were not entirely his fault, as they bounced off of would-be receivers and into the waiting hands of San Diego defenders. Of course, he had some good luck as well, as Drayton Florence dropped a sure interception at the goal line. Later on in that specific drive, Manning made what amounted to be a terrible call at the goal line. After a Reggie Wayne reception got the ball to the one, the Colts stalled. The got to a fourth and one situation, and rather than run Edgerrin James or play-action to another receiver, Manning tried to bootleg around the corner. Unfortunately for him, there were several Chargers that weren’t fooled on the play, including Shawne Merriman who came up with the sack. Manning’s game stats could have looked better in the early going, as he twice had receivers taken down at the one (though he did throw a score eventually on one of those). He also had a ball dropped in the end zone by sure-handed Marvin Harrison. Manning played well in the second half despite continued pressure from San Diego. He simply made play after play to bring his team back. The comeback came up a bit short, however, thanks to a surprisingly bad mental error on Manning’s part. With the Colts down by two and at the San Diego 23 yard line (in FG range), Manning inexplicably flung the ball out of bounds under pressure and was whistled for intentional grounding. Following a third down sack, the Colts had the ball at the 38 yard line and were now well out of FG range. After a punt, Chargers RB Michael Turner took off on an 83 yard touchdown to put the Chargers up nine, and seal the win.
There was absolutely no room for James the entire game. The Colts had to abandon the run fairly early in order to try and catch up. The quick strike aerial assault worked well, though James did benefit on one of the drives. He scored from a yard out to salvage a decent day for fantasy owners. He was fortunate to just get that one, as Marvin Harrison was tackled at the one yard line on the previous play. The TD by James was the 64th of his career, breaking the team record set by the great Lenny Moore. James still has a tiny shot at the league rushing title so it remains to be seen what his role will be going forward. But with all of the injury scares today, it would not be surprising to see James receive very little work over the next two weeks.
Wayne led all players with an astounding 17 targets. Even on a day when the teams threw a combined 78 passes, 17 targets is still a high portion of the looks. Wayne caught a bit of bad luck when he was taken down at the one yard line on a play that seemed like a certain touchdown. LB Donnie Edwards caught Wayne from behind and stopped him just short of the goal line. The Chargers held on the drive, and the Colts turned the ball over on downs, a huge point in the game. Late in the contest, Wayne went down hard and came up holding his hand with an apparent injury, but no update was given on his condition or status for next week. Wayne reached the 1,000 yard mark for the second time in his career, both in the last two years.
After a somewhat sluggish start, Harrison had a fantastic game. He dominated the Chargers’ secondary, and topped 1,000 yards for a seventh straight season. CB Quentin Jammer never had a chance on some of the moves Harrison put on him, and the amazing part is that Harrison’s day could have been even better. He was tackled at the one yard line after a long reception, with Edgerrin James scoring on the following play. Harrison also had a ball go off his hands in the end zone for what would have been a sure score later in the contest.
Clark had an up and down game. His touchdown reception was nothing spectacular, as pretty much the entire San Diego defense sold out on the run. Clark was wide open in the back of the end zone for one of the easiest scores he’ll ever have. And that was the good part. Early in the game, he had a ball bounce off his hands and nearly get intercepted by the Chargers. On the Colts’ last-gasp drive, Clark did have a ball go off his hands that was intercepted by CB Quentin Jammer, ending the game. It was on that final drive that Clark really boosted his stat line. After a two reception, nine yard day, Clark hauled in a 36 yard grab over the middle to give him a very productive game.
The Colts did a solid job in stifling the Chargers rushing game for about 95% of the game. LaDainian Tomlinson didn’t break any big gains, and San Diego was moving the ball pretty much solely through the air. All but one of their runs was straight up the gut, and usually resulted in about a two or three yard gain. Then it all fell apart for the Colts. Backup Michael Turner took a carry up the right side (the first time San Diego ran right) and galloped downfield for a win-clinching 83 yard touchdown run. Perhaps the Colts simply got used to plugging the middle of the field, or perhaps they underestimated Turner’s speed. Whatever the case, it turned a second and 13 into a San Diego touchdown, and it turned a two point lead into a nine point lead – basically ending the game in the process.
DL Corey Simon and Robert Mathis didn’t suit up for the game, resting injuries. They nearly added another DL to the mix when DE Dwight Freeney came up limping after a play. Luckily for the Colts, he was able to return to the game. The fact that Freeney returned to the game served to demonstrate how much the Colts defense wanted to win this game. For the star player to suffer any type of injury and remain in, you know that no one is worrying about injuries moreso than victories. The Colts had several great opportunities to intercept Brees early, and finally got to him late in the third quarter. After playing flawlessly for nearly three quarters, Brees was intercepted by Gary Brackett. That led to an Edgerrin James touchdown. On San Diego’s next possession, Brees was pressured into fumbling the football, which Montae Reagor recovered inside the five yard line. Early in the fourth quarter, San Diego took the lead on a Nate Kaeding field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, James Mungro fumbled the ball away to the Chargers. With San Diego poised to make it a two score game, Nick Harper came up big with an interception in the end zone. It was actually poor defense by Harper that allowed for the pick. He was covering Reche Caldwell, who was a good 3-5 yards in front of him in the end zone. Had the pass by Brees been on the mark, Caldwell would’ve had an easy touchdown. As it was, the ball sailed over his head and was picked by Harper. Harper did make a fine play on the ball and did a good job of keeping his feet inbounds on the play. S Bob Sanders, who was jacked up after all the turnovers and was seen dancing on the sidelines, perhaps should have been studying up on game film a bit more. He was last seen being beaten downfield for a 54 yard reception by WR Keenan McCardell to help set up the game-winning FG.