What We Learned: Colts at Chargers

The Colts dropped another playoff thriller to the Chargers Saturday night, 23-17, in overtime. Brad Keller breaks down the Wild Card action and what we learned.

1. Matchups, Matchups, Matchups:  Regardless of San Diego's record or the fact that the Colts defeated them on the road earlier this season, the fact remained that the Chargers were a tough draw for Indianapolis.

The Colts simply don't match up well with San Diego
AP Photo/Denis Poroy

They are a physical team on offense and defense and are naturally predisposed to giving the Colts a tough game, whether the experts and the people who set the betting lines agree.

LaDainian Tomlinson's health was not a factor.  Antonio Gates' health was not a factor.  The key matchups dictated the course of the game on the field.

2. Special Teams Continue to Be Key in the Postseason:  Mike Scifres and Darren Sproles played huge roles for the Chargers in terms of field position and allowed them to hang around despite the fact that the Colts outgained them significantly throughout the first three quarters.

In the offseason, a point of emphasis for Bill Polian and his staff will be to identify, possibly through free agency, though more likely through the draft, a more suitable punter than Hunter Smith and a better return man for punts and kickoffs than the underwhelming combination of Chad Simpson, Pierre Garcon, Keiwan Ratliff, and even TJ Rushing, when he returns from injury.

3. Tony Dungy's First Half Challenge Changed the Course of the Game:  If he didn't squander a challenge on the play to Reggie Wayne by the sidelines, would he have challenged the non-catch by Chris Chambers before the two minute warning?  The odious spot for Michael Bennett in the fourth quarter?  We'll never know.  Once he used that challenge up, every other potential challenge in the game became less of a priority, yet magnified.

The Colts couldn't run the football when it counted this season
Harry How/Getty

4. Lack of a Running Game Doomed the Colts: All season, it was apparent that Indianapolis was going to need to be able to run the ball in order to close games out and possess the ball.  Against the Chargers, they totaled only 64 yards on 22 carries, for an anemic 2.9 yard average.

When push came to shove with third and two with 2:30 to play and the game on the line, with Indianapolis only needing a first down to close out the game, they decided to throw the ball and were sacked.

In a previous life, they would have had the confidence to run for those two yards and, convert or fail, would have kept the clock moving and kept Smith away from the chalk of his own end zone.

If the 32nd-ranked Cardinals found an occasion to run the ball today (and win), then the 31st ranked Colts should have taken the opportunity as well, especially when mammoth nose tackle Jamal Williams was not in the game.

5. Game Ball Still Goes to the Defense:  With all the star power on the offensive side of the ball, too much attention is often paid to them and eschewed from a very capable and gritty defensive squad.

Amongst all the dissection of this game, the perils and the promises, the bad calls and the missed opportunities, the fact remains that everyone associated with the Colts knew that 17 points would not be enough to win.  Aside from a promising touchdown drive in the first quarter and a crafty touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning and company simply gained a lot of yards between the 40s.

In a game of this magnitude, against a pass defense as vulnerable as this, they needed to do better.  The defense came up with two turnovers in the end zone, four sacks, and kept the highest scoring offense in the league to 14 points through 58 minutes.

6. There's Always Next Year:  The Colts have a solid defense, a young and improving offensive line, some of the most accomplished skill position players in the league on the offensive side of the ball, and the reigning MVP.

They will be back next year.  Maybe the bounces will favor them then.

Maybe they'll be a higher seed.  Maybe they won't need to face Darren Sproles and the Chargers.

At 3-4 after seven games, a playoff spot seemed unlikely.  Remember the great things accomplished and the strides made this season on both sides of the ball. 

And think of what this team would be with a decent kick returner and punter...

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