Arash Markazi
Monday November 12th, 2007

Peyton Manning threw his bag against his locker and grimaced as he tried to tighten his tie, struggling to make something resembling a Windsor knot.

Three lockers to his right, Adam Vinatieri sat alone in the corner, looking into his already packed duffle bag for a few extra minutes, trying to figure out where he had left his accuracy.

Down the hall in the deserted coach's room, Tony Dungy was flipping through the final statistics from a 23-21 loss, still shaking his head at numbers he never thought he'd see.

It was a box score as rare as an overcast, rainy day in San Diego. For the first time in his career, Manning threw six interceptions -- a Colts franchise record -- after never throwing more than four; and Vinatieri, who has made a career out of game-winning field goals, missed a 29-yarder that would have given Indianapolis an improbable lead after trailing 23-0 in the first half.

"It was a crazy game," said Vinatieri, who also missed a 42-yard attempt before the half. "It was sloppy. You would never expect the game to go like that; but it did."

Vinatieri paused, shook his head and smiled in between answering questions, thinking about all the oddities that took place in the game -- from the unusual downpour, the opening kickoff that Darren Sproles ran back back 89 yards for a touchdown, Manning's six-pack of picks and the first game-winning miss he could remember kicking in a long time.

Another oddity is the Colts' two-game losing streak after last week's "Game of the Century" against the Patriots. Suddenly, the undefeated Colts are in the midst of their first losing skid since last season and look like a shell of their former selves.

"We've certainly had bad fortune, but you can't use that as an excuse," said Manning. "We can't use that as an excuse because we still had a chance to win tonight."

It was an especially frustrating night for Manning, who had statistically the worst game of his career, on the heels of one of his more disappointing losses. Without targets such as Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez and opening the game with just 17 offensive players, Manning looked as if he was forcing passes early in the game and playing into the Chargers' gameplan.

San Diego disguised their blitz packages in the first half, often lining up six of their front seven on the line of scrimmage but never rushing more than four, with the other defenders dropping back into coverage. That wouldn't normally fluster Manning, but playing with receivers he wouldn't usually throw to -- even in the preseason -- he was unable to capitalize on the mismatches.

After the game, Manning seemed flustered simply answering a reporter who asked if throwing to a new set of receivers was the reason for his poor performance.

"Yeah, no, um, well, I take full responsibility for all of [the interceptions]," said Manning, whose six interceptions were the most thrown by an NFL quarterback since 2004. "They were poor throws or poor decisions, either one ... I've never thrown more than four [interceptions], so this would be a personal record."

The prospect of beginning a new winning streak despite nearly half of the Colts' offensive lineup nursing injuries wasn't an obstacle Manning was expecting to deal with a couple weeks ago. But it's the reality he acknowledged in the postgame before finally fixing his tie and heading out of the visiting locker room.

"We have no choice," said Manning. "It's been a long time since we lost a game. It was almost a year since we lost last week, and to lose two in a row is disappointing; but getting a win is best the best remedy for a two-game losing streak. We need to start feeling good about ourselves again."

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