Chargers keep Peyton Manning in his place

The Indianapolis Colts have paid Peyton Manning tens of millions of dollars.

But the San Diego Chargers own him.

That was clear again Sunday night as the Chargers intercepted four of the All-Pro quarterback's passes — returning two of those picks for touchdowns — in a 36-14 rout of the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was the most lopsided home loss of Manning's career.

The Chargers have won five of their last six meetings with the Colts, and are rapidly rounding into the caliber of team that won the last four AFC West titles. It was the fourth consecutive victory for San Diego (6-5), which is a game behind Kansas City in the division and plays its next three games at home.

San Diego has been a huge stumbling block for Manning, who didn't get a lot of help from his reshuffled offensive line, receivers who dropped catchable balls or nonexistent running game.

Over the years, Manning's completion percentage against the Chargers (60.3%) is about five points less than against all other teams. He's had four more interceptions than touchdowns against the Chargers, and 200 more touchdowns than interceptions against the rest of the league.

Sunday, Manning was hit and harried all game, so much so that NBC cameras caught him flinching in anticipation of the converging defenders. That was an unusual visual considering how well-protected he has been over the years.

"Offensively, we didn't do a real good job," said Manning, who has had seven passes intercepted in consecutive losses to New England and San Diego, the most over any two-week span in his 13-year career. "I didn't do a real good job."

With the Colts falling to 6-5, it means they will not extend their NFL-record streak of seven consecutive seasons with 12 or more wins. More important, their path to the postseason got tougher. They're tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South, and the Jaguars have already beaten them once.

Tumbling to the middle

Pull up the NFL standings, take a look at the NFC West, and feel free to scratch your head.

What the L is going on?

The Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams are both 5-6. They're also the leaders in the NFC West, a division moving backward so quickly it should be beeping. The Rams stepped forward by winning at Denver, and the Seahawks stepped back with a home loss to Kansas City.

The mild, mild West is a microcosm of a league where mediocrity reigns, where the middle of the road is as busy as a Thanksgiving traffic jam — the bad teams getting better, and the good teams getting worse.

The league calls that competitive balance, and it makes every weekend a crapshoot. That was the case Sunday, when eight of the 11 day games were decided by a touchdown or less.

The two-win Buffalo Bills showed a strong heartbeat, coming oh-so-close to beating the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime. Instead, after Bills receiver Stevie Johnson let a soft, 40-yard touchdown pass slip through his hands — his fifth drop of the game — the Steelers responded with a field goal to win, 19-16.

"I had the game in my hands and I dropped it," Johnson said. "Humbled. Humbled."

The Carolina Panthers have been humbled all season, cycling through quarterbacks and winning just one game. But they nearly reversed their fortunes for a day, giving the surging Browns a scare in Cleveland before losing, 24-23. The Panthers, with rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen at the helm, came within inches of victory — John Kasay's 42-yard field-goal attempt on the final play grazed the outside of the left upright.

Kasay missed, but Atlanta's Matt Bryant didn't. He made a 47-yard field goal with nine seconds left to lift the Falcons to a 20-17 victory over Green Bay at the Georgia Dome.

In what was billed as a possible preview of the NFC championship game, the Falcons (9-2) showed again that they are devastatingly efficient at home, where they are 19-1 with Matt Ryan at quarterback. Four of Atlanta's final six games are against losing teams, including two against the 1-10 Panthers.

Then again, records can be deceiving. Just look at the Chicago Bears. Yes, they came into Week 12 at 7-3 and on a roll, but their four previous victories were against teams that were a combined 11-29. How good could the Bears really be?

They showed the football world Sunday, knocking off Michael Vick and the torrid Philadelphia Eagles, 31-26, with a four-touchdown, zero-interception performance by Jay Cutler.

It was the first Eagles loss in a game in which Vick was the quarterback throughout, and the first time Vick had an interception since Christmas Eve of 2006. What's more, it was a reminder that there might not be a clear-cut favorite in the NFC all season.

Feeling punchy

Most weeks it's a helmet-to-helmet hit that has everyone buzzing. But in Sunday's incident, neither player was wearing a helmet.

Houston receiver Andre Johnson and Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan were ejected after ripping off each other's helmets and brawling, the culmination of tensions that were brewing all game.

"He kept doing little things and I told him: 'Just because you're frustrated, you need to stop what you're doing,'" Johnson said. "I guess he thought it was funny."

The normally soft-spoken Johnson conceded: "I lost my cool."

Finnegan did not speak to reporters after the game, but Titans Coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the competition committee, said the incident "is not good for the game."


Cleveland's Peyton Hillis rushed for three touchdowns against the Panthers, pushing his season total to 11. That puts him in some lofty company — the only other Cleveland backs to run for that many in a season are Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, both Hall of Fame members.

"That's absurd," Hillis told reporters after being informed of his place in team history. "Those guys are legends and I'm a nobody."

Change for the better

The Dallas Cowboys changed coaches, then won their next two games.

The Minnesota Vikings are hoping they can do the same — and they're halfway there. In beating Washington on Sunday, the Vikings won their first game under interim Coach Leslie Frazier.

From the sound of things, Frazier already has something former coach Brad Childress did not: command of the locker room.

"He's well-respected. It felt like when he talks, guys' ears are pinned up; they listen to everything that's coming out of his mouth," running back Adrian Peterson said of the promoted defensive coordinator. "It's just a feeling that I really can't explain, a feeling of just being sure about the words that are coming out of his mouth and trusting them."

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