SAN DIEGO — Peyton Manning has his MVP award and nothing more, outdone again in January by the San Diego Chargers.
Speedy little Darren Sproles scooted 22 yards for the winning score 6:20 into overtime and the Chargers beat the Colts 23-17 in an AFC wild-card game Saturday night, ending Indianapolis’ nine-game winning streak a day after Manning won his third Associated Press NFL MVP award.
Sproles came up big on a night when the Chargers played the final 2 1/2 quarters without LaDainian Tomlinson, who stood on the sideline in obvious discomfort from a groin injury.
Fifty years after the Baltimore Colts won the first overtime game in league history by the same score over the New York Giants for the NFL title, Indianapolis wasn’t so fortunate. It was victimized by Sproles, who rushed 23 times for 105 yards, caught five passes for 45 yards, had 106 yards on four kickoff returns and 72 on three punt runbacks.
“It’s disappointing to lose a playoff game,” Manning said. “We certainly had some chances to win, but give them credit. We had chances to put the game away, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Chargers (9-8) won the overtime toss. Indy’s Darrell Reid called heads, but referee Ron Winter’s flip came up tails. Sproles sent the Chargers into the second round of the playoffs, either at Tennessee or Pittsburgh, by finishing off the only series of overtime with his TD run around left end against an exhausted defense for the Colts (12-5).
San Diego’s winning drive was aided by two defensive holding calls, the second against Tim Jennings on third-and-8. On the next play, Colts linebacker Clint Session was whistled for grabbing Sproles’ facemask. Sproles scored on the next play, shedding a defender at the 5-yard line.
Sproles’ TD run sent Qualcomm Stadium into bedlam. It was San Diego’s fifth straight win; the Chargers needed the previous four victories to secure the AFC West title with an 8-8 record.
Last season, the Chargers pulled off a 28-24 upset at Indianapolis in the divisional round after Philip Rivers and Tomlinson both went out with knee injuries.
This was the fourth time the teams met in two seasons and the sixth time in five years. The Chargers have won four of the six.
San Diego got its first sack of the game at a key time, when Tim Dobbins dropped Manning at the Colts 1 on third down with 2 minutes left, forcing a punt and giving the Chargers the ball at the Indy 38.
“I’m not going to get into the specific plays,” Manning said. “The Chargers made a good play on that one.”
Nate Kaeding kicked a 26-yard field goal with 31 seconds left to force overtime.
It was the 25th overtime game in the postseason, including one game in the AFL. The last overtime game in the playoffs was last season’s NFC title game, won by the New York Giants and Manning’s little brother, Eli, against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
Another star for the Chargers was Mike Scifres, whose booming punts continually pinned the Colts deep in their territory. Scifres punted six times for an average of 52.7 yards, including a 67-yarder.
Still, Manning caught the Chargers napping on a 72-yard touchdown play that for a while seemed like it was going to stand as the winner.
Facing third-and-5 from the Colts 28, Manning quickly lined up and took an immediate snap that caught cornerback Antonio Cromartie so flat-footed he was looking at the Chargers’ bench when receiver Reggie Wayne went speeding past him and safety Paul Oliver. Wayne caught Manning’s pass at the Chargers 45 and was gone for a 17-14 lead.
The Colts came up with two turnovers in the end zone. Sproles was hit at the 2-yard line and fumbled into the end zone late in the third quarter, with Raheem Brock recovering.
Rivers kept San Diego’s next drive alive with a 13-yard scramble followed by a 1-yard sneak on fourth down, but then overthrew Chris Chambers in double coverage and was intercepted in the end zone by Antoine Bethea.
The teams traded TDs early, with Indy’s Joseph Addai scoring on a 1-yard run late in the first quarter and Tomlinson scoring on a 3-yard run early in the second quarter. The Colts went ahead 10-7 on Adam Vinatieri’s 43-yard field goal midway through the second period before Sproles’ 9-yard run just before halftime put the Chargers ahead 14-10.
Manning was 25-of-42 for 310 yards. Rivers was 20-of-36 for 216 yards, with one interception.
“We were backed up at times, but when you’re backed up, the idea is go try to get a first down and change field position,” Manning said. “We weren’t able to do that.”