SAN DIEGO – Ron Rivera was talking about Peyton Manning with both admiration and frustration when the reality of being an NFL defensive coordinator in the playoffs caught up with him.
“I tell you, you guys are like upsetting my stomach,” Rivera said.
As defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears two seasons ago, Rivera watched the Super Bowl slip away to Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Now he’s got to come up with a scheme to stop Manning and the streaking Colts or else the Chargers’ season will be over.
The Colts (12-4) and AFC West champion Bolts (8-8) will meet again in their lively rivalry in a wild-card game Saturday night at Qualcomm Stadium. It will be the fourth time in two seasons the teams have met, and the second straight year they’ve collided in the playoffs.
While the Chargers have dominated the Colts, including stunning them 28-24 in the divisional round of the playoffs last year, Manning is always the X factor.
This time he’s playing at an MVP clip and brings in a Colts team that’s won nine straight games, including a 23-20 heartstopper at San Diego on Nov. 23, when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 51-yard field as time expired.
San Diego was written off at 4-8 before winning its last four to claim the weak AFC West.
In his past four games, Manning has completed 90 of 110 passes for 1,054 yards – including two 300-yard games – and eight touchdowns, with zero interceptions. Overall in the streak, Manning is 209 for 290 for 2,248 yards and 17 touchdowns, with only three interceptions.
What stands out to Rivera is “how much he’s improved each week, his accuracy, to the point where he’s probably playing as well as he has been in the past.”
The Colts started 3-4, in large part due to the knee problems that kept Manning out of training camp and limited his effectiveness early in the season.
“Now you see the timing, you see the ball being put where it needs to be put, and you see the receivers in sync with him,” Rivera said.
Rivera was promoted from inside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator on Oct. 28 after Ted Cottrell was fired. The loss to the Colts came three games into Rivera’s tenure.
“We had chances to stop him and that’s the one thing that was disappointing is we didn’t do it,” Rivera said. Manning was 32 of 44 for 255 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
Manning said he’s seen changes in the Chargers’ defense.
“I just think they’re playing real sound right now,” he said. “They’re always looking for turnovers and swarming to the football. They’re getting a lot of those things right now.”
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