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September 26, 1999
Colts Battle Back to Defeat Chargers
By Mike Devitt
Those blips that kept showing up on the radar screens at San Diego's Lindbergh Field Sunday afternoon? No, they weren't UFOs, and they weren't the latest Stealth fighters flying in from Nevada on a test run, either.
Those blips were caused by the arm of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who put on an aerial assault of his own against the San Diego Chargers Sunday. In just his 19th game as a pro, Manning completed 29 of 53 passes and set a franchise record with 404 yards passing in a 27-19 comeback win over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. The win gave Indianapolis its second victory of the year and its first win on the road since December 1997.
Manning's partner in crime on Sunday -- as usual -- was wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who tied a team record with 13 receptions and had a career high 196 receiving yards. He also caught a touchdown from Manning in the first quarter, giving him a league-high six touchdowns on the year and putting him on pace to shatter team records in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns in one season.
While Harrison and Manning sparked the offense, Vic Fangio's bend-but-don't-break defense limited the Chargers to just ten points offensively and held San Diego to 274 yards of total offense. Shawn King, Jeff Burris and Ellis Johnson all contributed quarterback sacks, while cornerback Tyrone Poole picked off a Jim Harbaugh pass in the game's final seconds to preserve the victory.
"It was a heck of a comeback," said head coach Jim Mora. "To come back from behind on the road is agreat accomplishment for this football team.
"It was a war out there, a battle to the end. I thought our guys showed a lot of toughness and character and courage to fight back like they did but give everybody credit. It was a team effort."
The Colts got off to a quick start against San Diego, as the team's first offensive play of the game was a 45-yard strike from Manning to Harrison. Indianapolis was unable to convert those yards into points, however, when kicker Mike Vanderjagt's 36-yard attempt hooked wide left.
Vanderjagt made up for his miscue on the team's next possession, as Indianapolis marched 49 yards in 11 for an early lead. Catches by Harrison, E.G. Green, Ken Dilger and Edgerrin James led to a 35-yard field goal attempt in the middle of the first quarter. This time, Vanderjagt split the uprights to give the Colts a 3-0 lead.
After a San Diego punt gave the team the ball back on their own 31-yard line, the Colts scored their first touchdown of the day, a 33-yard pass from Manning to Harrison that put Indianapolis up 10-0. The drive was highlighted by a diving, one-handed reception by Harrison on third down to retain possession, as well as big catches by Green and tight end Marcus Pollard.
As formidable as the Colts offense was in the first quarter, the defense was equally impressive. Indianapolis limited the Chargers to just 27 yards of offense in the first quarter and forced San Diego to go three-and-out the first two drives of the game.
But the Chargers caught their breath -- and then caught the Colts -- in the second quarter, narrowing the lead to 10-7 with an 8-play, 75-yard drive of their own. After a pass interference call by Jason Belser gave the Chargers the ball on the Indianapolis 1-yard line, Natrone Means barreled into the end zone on the next play for the score.
The Chargers then took the lead less than two minutes later when safety Michael Dumas blocked a Hunter Smith punt deep in Indianapolis territory. Defensive back Daryl Lewis pounced on the ball and rolled into the end zone, giving San Diego a 14-10 lead midway through the second quarter.
The nightmare continued for Indianapolis on the team's next possession when center Larry Moore, who appeared to be startled by oncoming linebacker Junior Seau, delivered a snap that was low and to Manning's left. Manning then helped shove the ball out of the Colts' end zone for a safety, increasing San Diego's lead to 16-10 and appearing to undo all the offensive damage Manning and Harrison had created in the first half.
The Chargers would increase their lead to 19-10 early in the third quarter, when kicker John Carney connected on a 50-yard field goal on the team's first possession of the second half. But the rest of the half belonged to the Colts, who roared back and scored 17 unanswered points for the win. Vanderjagt matched Carney with a 42-yard field goal of his own to make the score 19-13, and it would remain that way through the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was all Indianapolis, as the Colts stormed 83 yards on eight plays for the go-ahead score. Jerome Pathon, who had lost his starting job to E.G. Green at the start of the season, came up with a key 15-yard reception on third down to preserve the drive for the Colts. On the next play, Manning faked a handoff to Edgerrn James, kept the ball and skirted 12 yards into the end zone, putting Indianapolis back on top and giving Manning the first rushing touchdown of his pro career.
"Jerome made two key plays for us on third down," said Harrison. "Right after that, we scored two touchdowns. Those are big plays in my book."
"I'm just happy that we all came together. We all stepped up to the occasion today."
The defense, meanwhile, continued to put pressure on Charger quarterback Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the San Diego as the game wore on. They ended up limiting the Chargers to 274 yards of offense and allowed only 96 yards on the ground. They also forced Harbaugh to scramble on several occasions, sacking him three times and allowing him to complete only 15 of 37 passes on the day.
"Our whole defense played good," said Mora. "You look at the fact that they (San Diego) made 19 points, but they only made 10 on the defense. The defense held them to 10 points. Anytime you hold a team to 10 points, you ought to win the game, so our defense played well the whole game."
The Colts would score their final touchdown of the day with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Backup Terence Wilkins, subbing for an injured Green, caught an 11-yard pass from Manning for his first career reception. A few plays later, Wilkins caught another pass from Manning and fought off a pair of San Diego defenders to find the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown.
"He (Wilkins) made a heck of a play on that last touchdown," Mora said. "He's a good football player. He's been playing good in practice, and he's got a lot of confidence He showed some real toughness and strength getting into the end zone."
Clearly, though, the offensive stars of the game were Harrison and Manning. Manning finished with 29 completions for 404 yards passing, with two touchdowns and one interception. In the process, he broke the franchise single-game record of 401 which had been held by Johnny Unitas. Unitas accomplished the feat during a 38-31 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on September 17, 1967.
"He had a marvelous game," Mora said, referring to Manning's performance. "He keeps his poise out there."
Perhaps the most important stat for Manning was not completions or touchdowns, but the number of times he was sacked -- zero. The offensive line has yet to yield a quarterback sack so far, a streak that now goes back to the fourteenth game of the 1998 season.
"Peyton got hit a few times, got knocked down a few times," said Mora, "(but) he didn't get sacked. That's a credit to everybody on the offensive team."
Harrison, meanwhile, tied the record of 13 receptions in a single game which had been set by Lydell Mitchell in 1974 and tied by Joe Washington in 1979. He also finished with 196 yards receiving, the fifth highest single-game total in team history. The last Colt to have more than 190 receiving yards in a single game is Reggie Langhorne, who had 203 yards against the Washington Redskins in 1993.
"They have a tremendous defense," Harrison said of San Diego. "Everything that we got during the game, we worked for. Nothing came easy. I think this proved what it's going to take for us to go out and be competitive and win in this division. We've got to got out there and try to deal with adversity and just try to win when we can."
"It feels good," Harrison added. "I'm happy that we're winning. If it takes me and Peyton to go out there and do what we did today to win, that's what we're going to do."
"Two and one's a pretty good start," Mora said after the game. "This would be a heck of a way to go into the break after three games at two and one, and we're pleased with that."
* Safety Chad Cota suffered a high ankle sprain and possible damage to his left knee after getting involved in a group tackle in the second quarter. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Tito Wooten, who finished the game with one tackle and had an interception called back in the fourth quarter.
* Vanderjagt's missed field goal in the first quarter snapped a streak of 14 consecutive successful field goals inside 40 yards. Vanderjagt also missed a 56-yard field goal attempt to end the second quarter.
* With 28 receptions and six touchdowns through three games, Marvin Harrison is on pace to shatter not just team, but league single-season records for catches and touchdown receptions. The current marks are held by Herman Moore (123 catches in 1995) and Jerry Rice (22 touchdowns in 1987). It should be noted that current Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore was also the offensive coordinator in Detroit when Herman Moore set his single-season catch record.
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Mike Devitt writes the "Twelfth Man" column for the Indianapolis Star-News Online. He can be reached by telephone at (714) 841-9696, or by e-mail at email@example.com.