Unlike last postseason, Colts' D-line at full strength vs. Chargers

INDIANAPOLIS -- San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers knows he will face a much more formidable defensive front Saturday than he did in last year's playoff win over Indianapolis.

The Colts played without injured defensive linemen Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock in that one, and the defense failed to register a sack in a 28-24 loss. Now, all three players are healthy for the postseason rematch in San Diego.

Freeney and Mathis, who combined for 23 sacks, were each selected for the Pro Bowl this season, and Brock had 3.5 sacks and eight pressures. Freeney gets the most publicity on the Colts defensive line, but Rivers said the pass rush is not a one-man show.

"I tell you now, though, now there's two, three of them," Rivers said. "You throw Mathis in there and Brock and those guys, there's so many guys, you feel like they're coming from everywhere."

Rivers said Freeney presents a special challenge. He is the Colts' career leader with 70.5 sacks, and has had 10 or more in five different seasons.

"Certainly, the force Freeney has been over his career and the force he is, there certainly is a difference when he's in and when he's not in," Rivers said.

Freeney injured his left foot last season while executing a spin move in a regular-season loss to the Chargers. He remembers helplessly watching the playoff game.

"That was probably one of my lowest points, my lowest moments, and this one is a high one," he said. "Now I'm going to go back to the field that I got hurt at, again. I'll always remember that, so I'm going to be fired up and ready to play this game."

Freeney's foot, Mathis' bad knees and Brock's broken ribs and neck stinger left Colts coach Tony Dungy with few options last year. Dungy said his healthy defensive line's ability to disrupt Rivers will play a key role in Saturday's outcome.

"It'll be very important," he said. "That was a big thing in the last playoff game that we lost here. We didn't get much pressure, didn't get around him. They threw a lot of deep balls up the field, made big plays, and we need to be better than we were."

Brock doesn't mind the challenge.

"Our mindframe on the defensive line is that if we don't get the quarterback, we're not going to win the game," he said. "That hat is on us."

The defensive line's constant pressure this season was part of the reason the Colts allowed just six passing touchdowns, an NFL record for a 16-game season.

"It's a little bit of a bend-but-don't-break," Rivers said. "There are some completions out there, but again, they don't want to give up the big chunks. If their pass rush can get there and they can force you to make a mistake, they try to make you cause all the errors."

The Colts' defensive line has made game-changing plays all season.

In a comeback win at Houston, Indianapolis cornerback Marlin Jackson sent a leaping Sage Rosenfels into a helicopter spin, and Brock forced a fumble that linebacker Gary Brackett scooped up and returned 68 yards for a score. Brock's forced fumble was a turning point in a 31-27 win.

In the fourth quarter of a 10-6 win over Cleveland, Freeney swiped the ball out of Derek Anderson's hands, and Mathis' ensuing scoop and 37-yard sprint in the fourth quarter produced the game's only touchdown.

In a 31-24 win at Jacksonville, the Jaguars had the ball inside the Colts 10 in the final minute, but Freeney and Mathis sacked David Garrard to end the game.

They'd like to have another defining moment on Saturday, but Rivers has emerged as one of the league's best quarterbacks this season. He led the NFL with a 105.5 passer rating, and was one of six quarterbacks to throw for at least 4,000 yards this season.

Dungy was impressed with the four-game winning streak the Chargers used to make the playoffs, and he gave Rivers much of the credit for it.

"The mistakes are down," Dungy said. "They've scored a ton of points in the fourth quarter. When they've had to move the ball and had to get points, they've done it. That's the mark of a great quarterback, is how you do in pressure situations."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.