Darren Sproles’ 22-yard touchdown run lifted the San Diego Chargers to a 23-17 overtime triumph over the Indianapolis Colts Saturday in the National Football League playoffs.
With All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson forced out of the game in the first half with a groin injury, Sproles picked up the slack admirably for the Chargers.
He rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns while catching five passes for 45 yards in the American Conference first-round clash.
With their fifth straight victory the Chargers booked a trip either to American Conference top seed Tennessee or second-seeded Pittsburgh in next weekend’s second round.
San Diego had to win their last four games of the season to clinch the AFC West division title with a lackluster 8-8 regular-season record.
They became the first team in league history to make the playoffs after starting a campaign 4-8.
The Colts, whose quarterback Peyton Manning was named the NFL Most Valuable Player for the third time earlier in the week, saw their nine-game winning streak snapped.
They fell to San Diego in the postseason for the second straight year.
Philip Rivers threw for 217 yards on 20-of-26 passing and an interception for San Diego, which avenged a 23-20 home loss to Indianapolis in the regular season.
Manning completed 25-of-42 passes for 310 yards and one touchdown, but other than a long scoring toss to Reggie Wayne, he struggled in the second half.
After being halted twice in the second half on a fumble and an interception, San Diego finally pulled level at 17-17 on Nate Kaeding’s 26-yard field goal with 31 seconds to play in regulation.
The Chargers won the coin toss to start overtime with the ball.
They moved quickly downfield, benefiting from three Colts penalties that included a face mask call against Clint Sessions that gave San Diego first-and-10 on the 20-yard line.
Two players later, the diminutive Sproles sprinted down the left sideline and into the end zone.
The Chargers took a 14-10 lead into halftime but had to overcome a series of mistakes in the second half.
Manning caught San Diego’s defense napping midway through the third quarter when he found Wayne all alone down the left sideline for a 17-14 lead.
San Diego responded by driving down the field only to see Sproles fumble into the end zone from the one-yard line and Indianapolis recover the ball.
On San Diego’s next possession, Antoine Bethea intercepted Rivers in the end zone.