The only way to judge Sunday's Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf matchup is in conventional terms -- Manning won, Leaf lost.
That is, the first regular-season meeting between the quarterbacks taken 1-2 in last April's draft was the first win of Manning's NFL career, a 17-12 victory by the Indianapolis Colts over Leaf's San Diego Chargers.
But in aesthetic terms, it was a wash -- both played like rookie quarterbacks and talked like it afterwards.
"I'm getting more and more comfortable," said Manning, who threw a 19-yard pass to Marshall Faulk for the game's only touchdown and finished 12-of-23 for 137 yards. "The plays are going to come."
Leaf's stats were similar. He also was 12-for-23, gaining 150 yards, including a 56-yard pass to Charlie Jones that set up San Diego's only touchdown, a 1-yard run by Natrone Means with 1 minute, 48 seconds left in the game. He also had a second-quarter TD pass to Jones called back by an illegal procedure penalty -- an offensive tackle was lined up off the offensive line.
And while it was his interception that set up the Colts' touchdown, that was Leaf's only turnover -- a major improvement over two straight losses in which he turned over the ball nine times. So his feelings were mixed after the Chargers (2-3) lost their third straight game.
"It feels pretty terrible. I don't feel good about anything right now," he said. "But it will come. I'm going to be fine."
In many ways, Leaf and Manning were onlookers in this game, in which th heroes for Indianapolis were Elijah Alexander, Ken Dilger and Mike Vanderjagt.
Alexander had the interception that set up the TD, a fumble recovery that led to a 48-yard field goal by Vanderjagt, who also hit from 51 and 40 yards.
And Dilger scored a surprise 2-point conversion after the Colts' touchdown, taking a direct snap from center and running the ball in. That forced San Diego to go for 2 points after it scored late in the game. Leaf's pass for Webster Slaughter was wide and it remained at 14-12.
Then Dilger recovered an onside kick that led to Vanderjagt's field goal that made it 17-12.
| San Diego's wide receiver Latario Rachal is stripped of the football by Indianapolis' Ray McElroy, causing a fumble in the first half. (AP) |
San Diego controlled the middle part of the game, but the Colts led 11-6 in the fourth quarter when Means, who ran for 130 yards in 31 carries, fumbled to set up Vanderjagt's second field goal.
"They had to travel just 50 yards to get all their scores," Chargers coach Kevin Gilbride said. "You can't beat many people that way."
The game started like it might be a big one for Manning. On the Colts first play, he hit Marvin Harrison perfectly over the middle for what might have been a 77-yard TD pass. But Harrison dropped the ball.
From then on, it became a defensive contest.
The Colts led 11-0 after the first quarter, it was 11-6 at the half and still after three quarters as the San Diego defense held Marshall Faulk to 50 yards in 25 carries.
Then came the exciting final moments and the post-mortem.
Leaf, taken after Manning, downplayed the comparison.
"He doesn't play against me. He doesn't line up at linebacker or anything like that."
But Manning said:
"It's always going to be there, the comparison. You kind of get to accept it."
On the other hand, it's always easy to accept when you get the "W."
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