P Mike Scifres (Stu Forster/Getty)
Mike Scifres saved the best game of his career for exactly the right moment. Unleashing an unreal average of 51.7 yards per punt, he pinned the Colts inside their 20-yard line all six times he stepped on the field. Just as significant -- the Chargers wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if not for a play made by Scifres three weeks earlier.
Mike Scifres made the play of the season before the playoffs ever got underway.
It came in Week 15 against the Kansas City Chiefs, when Scifres served up a beautiful onside kick with 1:13 left to play and the Chargers trailing by five. Kassim Osgood recovered the ball and the Chargers marched for the game-winning touchdown in a game they had to win to stay alive.
The Chargers are still alive and kicking three weeks later, thanks in large part to the kicking of Scifres.
Scifres unleashed six punts against Indianapolis -- pinning the Colts at the 10, 19, 3, 7, 9 and 1 -- to become the first punter in playoff history to land six kicks inside the 20-yard line. His fourth kick traveled 67 yards, the longest playoff punt since 1992.
The Chargers made the most of Scifres’ performance.
After Scifres pinned the Colts at the 3-yard line, the Chargers defense promptly forced a three-and-out. The Colts punted from deep in their own territory and the Chargers took over at the Indianapolis 44-yard line. Four plays later, LaDainian Tomlinson ran in from 4 yards out to tie the score at 7-7.
Following Scifres’ 67-yard kick, the Chargers defense forced another three-and-out. San Diego benefited from another short field, taking over at the Indianapolis 45-yard line, and snagged a 14-10 lead six plays later on a 9-yard touchdown run by Darren Sproles.
Scifres saved his best for last, booming a 51-yard punt that skidded out of bounds at the Indianapolis 1-yard line with 2:41 left in the game and the Bolts trailing by three. The Colts were one first down away from victory, but burdened by playing in the shadows of their own goal posts, Peyton Manning & Co. were unable to move the chains. The Chargers regained possession at the Indianapolis 38-yard line, scored the tying field goal seven plays later, and the rest is history.
For those keeping score at home that means all three of San Diego’s scoring drives in regulation began on the Indy side of midfield. All three of those possessions were made possible by Scifres, who single-footedly won the field-position battle.
It was an once-in-a-lifetime showing by Scifres, although the Chargers would love nothing more than an encore performance next week. The Chargers will hit the road to face top-ranked defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Philip Rivers & Co. could sure use a few more short fields to work with.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.