The story Sunday night was expected to be about the return of Pro Bowl WR Vincent Jackson. Instead, it was about the Chargers' suddenly stifling defense.
With Jackson, who was making his 2010 debut after holding out for the first seven games of the season and being suspended the next three, lasting just a couple plays before a calf injury sidelined him the rest of the contest, and with QB Philip Rivers throwing for a season-low 185 yards and zero touchdowns, the Bolts' offense wasn't exactly a powerhouse. But on this night in Indianapolis, it didn't need to be.
That's because San Diego intercepted QB Peyton Manning four times in this all-important AFC contest, returning two of the picks for scores in a 36-14 runaway victory.
The Chargers continue to be a thorn in Manning's side. In seven regular-season contests against them, the Indy QB has a 72.5 passer rating, his worst against any opponent, and a 12-16 TD-INT ratio. He also is 0-2 against San Diego in the playoffs.
It wasn't just the pass "D" that came to play, however: The Bolts allowed a season-best 24 rushing yards to the Colts, completely bottling up RB Donald Brown and recovering a Javarris James fumble. It was a dominant effort by the league's No. 1-ranked defense.
The PFW Spin
Any questions about whether the Chargers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender were answered Sunday night — they are one of the league's most dangerous teams.
It's the same song and dance we've seen with them for years now — stumble out of the gate, start to panic and develop a sense of urgency, correct the problems and finish the season like gangbusters. That certainly has been the case in 2010, as San Diego has recovered from a 2-5 start to win four in a row and get back over .500 and within one game of the division-leading Chiefs.
But the Bolts made a statement Sunday, giving a beatdown to one of the league's elite teams in their own house. On a night when Rivers couldn't hit any passes downfield and had to become more of a game manager, the "D" stepped up to control the contest and repeatedly force Manning into bad throws. ILB Kevin Burnett had yet another big outing with 10 tackles (two for loss) and an interception returned for a score, and plenty of other defenders contributed in this tremendous effort. It was a game that proved the Chargers can stymie one of the NFL's top offenses and win in a multitude of fashions.
With a very manageable schedule the rest of the way, San Diego is a great bet to win out and finish 11-5. And now that the Bolts appear to have corrected their biggest issue — special teams — there aren't many weaknesses on this club. Come playoff time, you can guarantee that none of the AFC's top contenders want to face this red-hot squad.