Pobody's nerfect

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- It wasn't quite a post-game chat with the president that Super Bowl winners get, but Marty Schottenheimer humoured the caller just the same.

On the other end of the line in the RCA Dome's visitors' locker room was the happiest person not on the payroll of the San Diego Chargers.

Schottenheimer's Lightning Bolts had just defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 26-17 and congratulations were in order.

"I spoke with Don Shula right after the game," the Chargers coach said. "He congratulated me on the victory."

You bet he did. The coach of the 1972 Miami Dolphins is still the only man to lead an NFL team through an undefeated season.

Shula and the rest of those Dolphins might have wanted a word with the Chargers defenders who made life miserable for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning all afternoon.

In putting a bone-crushing halt to the Colts' 13-0 start, Indy joined the 1998 Denver Broncos as the closest to matching the historic Dolphins. Now Manning and Co., must focus on a pretty good consolation prize -- Super Bowl XL.

"You do have an appreciation for (what the Dolphins did)," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We just couldn't quite pull it off. Our guys definitely wanted to stay undefeated.

"It's tough to go 16-0. We played a lot of good teams and you've got to be at your best every week."

As much as they tried to play down the pursuit of the perfect season, the determination in which they fought back in a game that could have been a San Diego blowout told another story.

Manning was hurried and harassed from the start, getting sacked four times and hit after the pass a dozen more.

"San Diego beat us first and foremost, let's make that clear," Manning said. "They were treating it like a playoff game and we were, too. I feel very disappointed that we lost."

Manning hadn't seen this much grief since the post-season pummelings the New England Patriots laid on him the past two years. While one loss isn't a cause for panic, the fact that the Colts showed they can be had is of concern.

Potential AFC playoff opponents will use the Chargers' plan as a textbook and are probably studying up already.

"He was getting harassed pretty good," Colts centre Jeff Saturday said. "As an offensive line, we pride ourselves on keeping him clean. We didn't do a very good job of that."

The heat forced Manning into uncharacteristically sloppy mistakes, the worst of which was saved for last.

Trailing 19-17 with 3:16 remaining, the Colts had a first down on the Chargers 23, in easy field-goal range for Oakville's Mike Vanderjagt.

But when Manning was dinged with an intentional grounding call, suddenly the Colts faced fourth and 24 from the 38 and Dungy opted to punt.

Despite being physically dominated by the Chargers, the Colts nearly pulled out a win. During a six-minute stretch of the third quarter, they went from trailing 16-0 to up 17-16 and the sellout crowd was about to blow the lid off the aging RCA Dome.

"Normally, we take charge in those situations," Dungy said. "We just didn't finish it off."

Not this time, anyway. After being rattled earlier in the half, Chargers quarterback Drew Brees drove his team downfield to set up a 49-yard Nick Kaeding field goal and a 19-17 lead.

A breakaway 83-yard touchdown run from Michael (Burner) Turner just prior to the two-minute warning was ample insurance.

And for the Colts, the rest was no history.


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