Game #4 takes us back to December 26, 2004, when the Colts hosted the San Diego Chargers. Both teams had already clinched their division, and were battling for the #3 seed in the playoffs. They also had not played each other since 1999, so the Colts had yet to face that Tomlinson guy, who didn't disappoint. Also, Manning was sitting on 47 TD passes on the season. Since this game essentially seeded both teams, there was a good chance Manning wasn't going to play much in Week 17 against the Broncos (and he didn't).
The defense did a good job forcing a punt on the Chargers' first drive, and Manning drove the Colts down the field to the SD 6 yard line. On a 3rd and 3, Manning tried to force a ball into Reggie Wayne, and he was intercepted by Donnie Edwards. He probably shouldn't have thrown that ball, and it was a big mistake, one of the few he made on this day. Six plays later, Tomlinson took a swing pass and went 74 yards for a TD, breaking tackles along the way.
Manning drove the Colts back down the field, only to stall out at the SD 18. Vanderjagt got the Colts on the board, now down 7-3. Nate Kaeding countered with a 50 yarder of his own, making it 10-3. The Colts kept up their offensive struggles, punting the ball back to the Chargers. Drew Brees found Eric Parker to go up 17-3. Things were not looking good for the Colts with 7:09 to go in the 2nd quarter.
Dominic Rhodes gave the Colts a spark by returning the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to the SD 36. The Colts again got inside the 10 yard line, but had to settle for another FG. They tacked on another FG with 0:20 left to go in the half to make it 17-9 at half. Edgerrin fumbled on 3rd and 1 from the 5, and Jeff Saturday jumped on the ball. This was not the best half of football by the Colts, but were only down a TD at half. Manning's stats:
Ewww. This certainly doesn't look like one of Manning's greatest games. The Colts couldn't find the end zone, and it looked like Marino's record was going to stay in tact. Something must have been said in the locker room, as Manning and the Colts looked like a much different team in the 2nd Half. Well, at least after each team's first drive of the half. The Colts went 3 and out, including a fumble by Manning. The Chargers than marched down the field, and scoring on a Antonio Gates TD to go up 24-9. I'll keep stats from this point forward...
The Colts converted its first 1st down of the drive, and faced a critical 3rd and 12 from their own 35. Manning found his old friend Marvin Harrison for 30 yards, giving the offense a shot in the arm. Three plays later, Manning found James Mungro on the shovel pass for #48 on the season, making the game 24-16. The defense could not stop the Chargers, as Tomlinson ran around end for 16 yards for the TD to go up 31-16, 5 seconds into the 4th quarter.
The Colts needed another spark, and it came from Dominic Rhodes. He returned the kickoff 88 yards for a TD. (Maybe he can try returning kicks again this season...) This pulled the Colts again to within 8, with a full quarter remaining. The Colts got a break on the next Chargers possession, as they had a 3rd and 9 from the Colts 25, well within Kaeding's range. Dwight Freeney makes a great play to get to Brees, force a fumble, and they lose 9 yards on the play. The Colts catch a break as "Martyball" comes in full force, punting from the Colt's 34.
The Colts convert on a couple 3rd and longs on the next possession, but ultimately end up with a Vanderjagt clank of the goal post with 5:14 to go. Again, thankfully, "Martyball" happens again, and the Colts get the ball back with 3:42 left in the game. #18 takes over:
After a sack on 2nd down, Manning finds Edgerrin for 11 yards, setting up a 4th and 4. Manning fits a ball in perfectly to Wayne, just as he turns around, for 18 yards and a first down. It was a great read by Manning, and kept the game alive just before the 2 minute warning. Manning then found Clark twice, and Harrison for 18 yards to the 21. I'll let Bob Lamey do the rest:
The touchdown pass is simply amazing. It was a perfect play call against the defense, and Stokley faked the safety out of his shoes. Plus Manning put the ball on his numbers, making the pass before Stokley had made his cut to the end zone. Manning has now surpassed Dan Marino for the all time record the TD passes in a season, but there is still work to be done, down by 2. They run a draw out of the shot gum, and Edge gets in for the 2 pointer, tying the game with under a minute to play. Nothing much else happens in regulation, and we go to overtime.
The Colts win the coin toss to start overtime, and never let the Chargers see the ball. A 23 yard play to Stokley, and a 35 yard pass to Wayne, running right up the middle of the defense set the Colts up for the game winning field goal. The play to Wayne is probably the best route Reggie runs, even today. When Manning hits him in stride, it goes for 20+ each time. Vanderjagt hits the game winner, and the Colts win 34-31. It was an amazing game, led by Manning, like so many other times before, and after. His 2nd Half stats, and final stats:
Manning showed us once again what makes him great. He broke a 20 year old record, and had a game to spare. That is why this is Greatest Game #4 in Peyton Manning's career.
I'm keeping the top 3 games top secret, so feel free to take your guesses...