Manning's MVP season comes up short

SAN DIEGO -- Peyton Manning and the NFL's hottest team entering the playoffs are going home for the winter.

The Indianapolis Colts' nine-game winning streak -- and their season -- came to an end when Darren Sproles' 22-yard run at 6:40 of overtime gave the San Diego Chargers a 23-17 victory Saturday night in their first-round playoff game.

Manning overcame two knee surgeries to put together perhaps his best year, guiding the Colts on their winning streak after a 3-4 start put their postseason hopes in jeopardy. The Colts wound up with their sixth straight 12-win season.

Manning's efforts were good enough for a third MVP award, and he certainly did his share against the Chargers, completing 25 of 42 passes for 310 yards and one touchdown -- a 72-yard throw to Reggie Wayne midway through the third quarter that put the Colts ahead 17-14.

But they wouldn't score again.

So it's the Chargers who advanced to next weekend's second round at either Tennessee or Pittsburgh after putting an end to the Colts' season for the second straight year.

"We had chances to put the game away, but we just didn't do it," a downcast Manning said. "We've been winning those fourth-quarter games. The Chargers just did a better job of executing. Give them credit."

Manning completed 90 of 110 passes for 1,054 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions in the last four games of the regular season. Overall during the Colts' winning streak, he was 209-for-290 for 2,248 yards and 17 touchdowns with only three interceptions.

"He started off slow, came back strong and did what a true competitor does," Colts running back Dominic Rhodes said. "But we lost, that's the bottom line. We're done, it's very disheartening. We didn't come through when we needed to."

With the NFL's 31st-ranked pass defense, the Chargers didn't appear to have what it takes to contain Manning and the explosive Indianapolis offense. But they did enough to hold the Colts to two touchdowns and a field goal.

The Colts led by three late in the game and forced a punt, but Mike Scifres pinned them at their 1-yard line with 2:41 left, and they were unable to get the first down that would have salted away the victory. On a third-and-2 play, Manning was sacked for the only time, by Tim Dobbins, back at the 1, forcing Hunter Smith to punt from the end zone.

"I'm not going to get into the specific plays," Manning said. "The Chargers made a good play on that one."

The Chargers took over at the Colts 37 after a 62-yard punt by Smith and a 26-yard return by Sproles, and were able to get into position for Nate Kaeding's 26-yard field goal to send it to overtime.

"We had to make one first down and we didn't make it, and that's what the game came down to," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "I thought Scifres did an incredible job. He was the difference in the game. He just pinned us in the hole all night long."

Scifres averaged 52.7 yards on six punts. He pinned the Colts inside their 20 four times in the first half with punts of 51, 58, 50 and 67 yards. Scifres' fourth-quarter punt that was downed at the Indianapolis 1 was a 52-yarder.

"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."

The Colts didn't pose a scoring threat after Kaeding's field goal, and the Chargers moved 75 yards after winning the coin toss at the beginning of overtime.

The game was the fourth between the teams in the last two seasons and their second straight playoff matchup. San Diego won a 28-24 decision last January at Indianapolis after Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson went out with knee injuries before losing at New England 21-12 in the AFC Championship Game.

The Chargers lost all five games they played against playoff teams during the regular season, including a 23-20 setback to the Colts on Nov. 23 in San Diego when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired.

Manning threw a career-high six interceptions against the Chargers last season, yet still almost brought the Colts back from a 23-0 deficit. San Diego escaped with a 23-21 win only because Vinatieri pushed a 29-yard field goal wide right with 1:31 left.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.

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