Bolts Topple Long Odds to Buck Colts

The experts said the Chargers would have to catch every break to upend the defending Super Bowl champions. Not even close. In a game where everything went Indy's way, the Chargers still managed to claw out a four-point victory. Here's a look at what worked, what didn't, and what lies ahead for the surging Chargers.

WHAT WORKED

--The Chargers offense kept the Indy defense off balance with a balanced and diverse attack. The Chargers ran the ball on 57 percent of their snaps, setting up big plays in the passing game. The ploy worked to perfection, as the Philip Rivers and Billy Volek combined to average a phenomenal 18.3 yards per completion.

--The offensive line did not yield a sack against the Colts and has allowed only four sacks in the last five games. The Chargers have an active streak of 113 offensive plays without a sack.

--Every year, the playoffs produce a handful of surprise heroes. Vincent Jackson is among this year's crop. The third-year receiver followed up the best game of his young career with another dandy, catching seven passes for 93 yards and a TD.

--Norv Turner used the Colts' defensive speed against them, using misdirection plays to keep Indy off balance. A misdirection screen to LaDainian Tomlinson gained 20 yards. Another one to Legedu Naanee picked up 27. Even Darren Sproles' 56-yard touchdown came after Sproles ran right and cut back across the formation.

--The defense forced three turnovers, all of them deep in Chargers territory. San Diego scored seven points off the takeaways…it would have been 14 if not for a highly questionable holding call against Eric Weddle on Antonio Cromartie's 89-yard interception return at the end of the first half. San Diego is 12-0 when it wins the turnover battle.

--The Chargers shut down Indy's running game for the second time in as many games. The Colts gained 44 yards on 18 carries (2.4 ypc). In the two games against the Chargers, Pro Bowl running back Joseph Addai carried the ball 45 times and was still held under 100 yards rushing.

--Mike Scifres proved to be a weapon against Indianapolis, booming three kicks for a net average of 43.7 yards and a gross average of 59 yards. Scifres' gross average was 10 yards more than any punter could muster during the regular season.

WHAT DIDN'T

--The Chargers were penalized 10 times for 79 yards, which does not including the negation of Cromartie's 89-yard return. The deafening noise at the RCA Dome definitely played a factor, but it's not like Gillette Stadium has ever been confused for a public library. San Diego has to clean this up if it hopes to advance.

--Nate Kaeding missed a field goal…in the playoffs…again. This time it was a 48-yard attempt that clunked off the right upright. Kaeding has hit only 3 of 7 attempts in his postseason career, which amounts to a 42.9-pecent conversion rate—less than half of his regular-season conversion rate (86.7 percent).

--Marlon McCree is a playoff disaster waiting to happen. He made a couple of timely plays against the Colts, including a fumble recovery and a devastating hit on Reggie Wayne on the final drive. However, it was McCree's limited range that allowed Anthony Gonzalez to escape down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown. And it was McCree's lack of focus that almost cost the Chargers a huge penalty, as he ripped off his helmet in celebration after the Chargers stopped the Colts at the San Diego 7-yard line with 2:01 left to play.

--Tony Dungy joked earlier in the week that the Chargers should rest Antonio Gates for the AFC Championship Game. Now, they may wish they had. Gates' toe appears worse for the wear, making him one many key Chargers in question for Sunday's game. Rivers and Tomlinson will be listed as questionable with knee injuries. All three are expected to be on the field in some capacity on Sunday, but their effectiveness will no doubt be compromised.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Chargers travel to New England and hope to bring some karma with them. The Patriots came into San Diego to eliminate the top-seeded Chargers in last year's tournament; the Chargers want to return the favor. At least two Patriots want some revenge of their own—Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau were unceremoniously cast aside by the Chargers as they entered the twilight of their careers.

The Chargers will be huge underdogs going into Sunday's contest. However, if their star players are healthy enough to take the field, and if the referees give the Chargers the type of calls that the Colts benefited from last weekend, then the Bolts have a real chance to deliver an upset. Norv Turner & Co. would like nothing better than to confirm the age old truism: cheaters never prosper.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.


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