INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 26 -- It was a play the Indianapolis Colts haven't practiced a lot this season, but when quarterback Peyton Manning leaned toward Brandon Stokley with a minute left in regulation and quietly told him to run a "corner post" pattern, the receiver knew exactly where to go and what do when he got there.
On first and 10 from the San Diego 21, with the Colts trailing the San Diego Chargers by eight points, Stokley sprinted straight, made a move to his left that faked free safety Jerry Wilson into falling down, then dashed back toward the goal post. As soon as he turned his head to find the ball, the tight spiral was right there for the touchdown that allowed Manning to throw his record 49th touchdown pass of the season Sunday, breaking a mark set by his boyhood hero, Dan Marino, in 1984.
Colts QB Peyton Manning throws his record-setting 49th touchdown pass, breaking Dan Marino's 20-year-old mark.
(Matt Kryger -- AP)
More significantly to Manning and his teammates, the Colts then tied the game at 31 with a two-point conversion on a quick draw play to running back Edgerrin James to force the game into overtime. They won it, 34-31, when Mike Vanderjagt connected on a 30-yard field goal with 12 minutes 13 seconds remaining in overtime, rallying from a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit and ending San Diego's eight-game winning streak.
"I told Stokley, 'Hey, you think the NFL is supposed to be so complicated,' " Manning said. "It was a play that we ran earlier, when we hit Reggie [Wayne] on a five-yard hitch, and Stokley ran a corner route. So when we came back with it, I gave the same [audible] signal and told Stokley to run a post.
"It turns into street ball pretty quick. I gave that audible, and I think they thought he was going to run to the corner. But he stuck the corner and went to the post. The only thing I was afraid of was that I threw it too early. I thought, 'Oh, no, he's going to be wide open and I'm going to throw it behind him.' "
Getting the record, he added is "an individual thing, but the nice thing is we turned it into a team thing. The receivers are excited about it, the defensive backs were saying, 'Don't worry, we'll get the ball back for you.' "
The Colts gave the 57,330 who packed the RCA Dome one of the wildest late-game rides in team history when they rallied from a 15-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to secure their 12th victory heading into Sunday's finale at Denver (9-6). Though the Colts can't improve their No. 3 seeding in the playoffs, Coach Tony Dungy said he plans to start his regulars in Denver, where the Broncos (9-6) will still be playing for a wild-card berth.
Manning's record has been the talk of the NFL in recent weeks, but the touchdown pass to Stokley also marked another league first. With his 10th touchdown catch of the season, he joined Marvin Harrison (14) and Reggie Wayne (11) with double digits in that category -- the first time three teammates accomplished that feat. All three also have gained at least 1,000 yards, the fourth time that has ever occurred.
For a while Sunday, it seemed the Chargers (11-4) would be celebrating another significant record. When second-year tight end Antonio Gates caught a four-yard shovel pass from Drew Brees midway through the third quarter, it opened a 23-9 San Diego lead and was Gates's 13th scoring catch, setting an NFL season mark for tight ends.
Manning tied Marino's 48 scoring passes with a shovel pass of his own to fullback James Mungro with 6:11 left in the third period. But when Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson dashed 16 yards up the middle on the first play of the fourth quarter, San Diego had opened a 31-16 lead, and the Colts looked to be in serious trouble. But only for a few seconds.
On the ensuing kickoff, Colts return man Dominic Rhodes popped through a small seam at the 30, then sprinted down the right sideline for an 88-yard touchdown that got the Colts back within eight points. The Colts forced a San Diego punt but were deflated on their next possession when Vanderjagt's 47-yard field goal hit the left upright, then held the Chargers to three plays and a punt before getting the ball back one more time with 3:42 left.
That's when Manning began a drive he'll remember the rest of his life, not only for the throw to Stokley, but also for brilliant pass to Wayne on fourth and 4 at the Colts 26. Initially, the Colts sent their punt team on the field, even as Manning was waving it off.
The Colts ran a slant-and-go play to Wayne down the left side, and despite tight coverage from Chargers cornerback Drayton Florence, the ball was underthrown just enough for Wayne to gain the advantage and make the catch for a first down at the Indianapolis 45.
"There were a lot of big plays late," Manning said, "but the play to Reggie might have been the biggest play, just to keep that drive alive."
An 18-yard throw to Harrison four plays later got the ball to the 21, and that set up the tying touchdown and James's conversion run with 56 seconds left. The Colts won the overtime coin toss, and at that point the final outcome seemed inevitable. A 23-yard pass to Stokley got the ball to midfield, followed by a quick slant that Wayne turned into a 35-yard gain to the San Diego 12. Two plays later, Vanderjagt made his winning kick, streamers and confetti rained down on the field, and the Colts could celebrate a record as well as a victory.
"It's almost unbelievable," Dungy said. "It would have been hard to script it any better."