Sproles came up big on a night when the Chargers played the final 2 ½ quarters without LaDainian Tomlinson, who stood on the sideline in obvious discomfort from what appears to be a serious 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).
"You know, when your number is called, you have to be ready," said Sproles, who early in the game fumbled into the end zone, with the Colts recovering.
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"Right after that fumble, it was still kind of in my mind," Sproles said. "I wanted that TD back to make up for the fumble."
Sproles' TD run sent Qualcomm Stadium into bedlam, and he ran off the field with the game ball. Manning hung his head in disappointment.
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. San Diego was the ninth team to enter the playoffs with an 8-8 record and became just the third to win its opener. The Chargers had gone 0-5 against teams that made the playoffs, including a 23-20 loss to the Colts here on Nov. 23.
» The Colts lost their playoff opener for the third time in the last four seasons.
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.
Nate Kaeding kicked a 26-yard field goal with 31 seconds left to force overtime.
"I don't know if you can dream a game like this," Scifres said.
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, his last play of the game. 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.
Tomlinson was hurt a week earlier in a 52-21 rout of Denver.
"From the first run, it was evident that I just didn't have the burst," said Tomlinson, who gained 14 yards on the game's first play from scrimmage. "I couldn't put my foot on the ground and get through the hole the way I wanted to. I went as long as I could. After the TD run, it was at the point where I felt like I was making it worse."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.