SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Ron Rivera was talking about Peyton Manning with both admiration and frustration when the reality of being an NFL defensive coordinator in the playoffs caught up with him.
"I tell you, you guys are like upsetting my stomach," Rivera said.
As defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears two seasons ago, Rivera watched the Super Bowl slip away to Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Now he's got to come up with a scheme to stop Manning and the streaking Colts or else the Chargers' season will be over.
The Colts (12-4) and AFC West champion Bolts (8-8) will meet again in their lively rivalry in a wild-card game Saturday night at Qualcomm Stadium. It will be the fourth time in two seasons the teams have met, and the second straight year they've collided in the playoffs.
While the Chargers have dominated the Colts, including stunning them 28-24 in the divisional round of the playoffs last year, Manning is always the X factor.
This time he's playing at an MVP clip and brings in a Colts team that's won nine straight games, including a 23-20 heartstopper at San Diego on Nov. 23, when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 51-yard field as time expired.
San Diego was written off at 4-8 before winning its last four to claim the weak AFC West.
In his last four games, Manning has completed 90 of 110 passes for 1,054 yards -- including two 300-yard games -- and eight touchdowns, with zero interceptions. Overall in the streak, Manning is 209-for-290 for 2,248 yards and 17 touchdowns, with only three interceptions.
What stands out to Rivera is "how much he's improved each week, his accuracy, to the point where he's probably playing as well as he has been in the past."
The Colts started 3-4, in large part due to the knee problems that kept Manning out of training camp and limited his effectiveness early in the season.
"Now you see the timing, you see the ball being put where it needs to be put, and you see the receivers in sync with him," said Rivera, who won a Super Bowl ring as a linebacker with the 1985 Bears. "That's what we as a group have got to be able to handle. He's going to put the ball where it needs to be. We've just got to make sure we're in proper position."
Rivera was promoted from inside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator on Oct. 28 after Ted Cottrell was fired. The loss to the Colts came three games into Rivera's tenure.
"We had chances to stop him and that's the one thing that was disappointing is we didn't do it," Rivera said. Manning was 32-of-44 for 255 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
The Chargers tied the game at 20 on Nate Kaeding's field goal with 1:30 left. But San Diego called a timeout before that field goal, giving Manning plenty of time to move the Colts within range for Vinatieri, one of the most clutch kickers in NFL history.
Manning surprised the Chargers with a 14-yard pass to Marvin Harrison on fourth-and-inches from the San Diego 48-yard line.
San Diego sacked Manning just once that night.
"We can always do a better job," said inside linebacker Stephen Cooper, who's led a resurgence on defense. "I think everybody knows Peyton, when he's comfortable in the pocket, that's when he has his best games. Whenever you have him moving outside the pocket, running around with guys at his feet, that's when he gets erratic and throws the ball up in the air like you seen last year, when Antonio had three picks."
During the 2007 season, Manning threw a career-high six interceptions against the Chargers -- with Antonio Cromartie getting three -- yet still almost brought the Colts back from a 23-0 deficit. San Diego escaped with a 23-21 win only because Vinatieri pushed a 29-yard field goal wide right with 1:31 left.
Three seasons ago, the Chargers ended the Colts' bid for perfection with a 26-17 win at Indianapolis. The Colts came in 13-0, but Shawne Merriman, then a rookie, had two sacks and forced an important intentional grounding by Manning. Luis Castillo also had a big sack for San Diego.
The loss of Merriman to season-ending knee surgery following the opener this year clearly affected the Chargers' defensive intensity, although they have played better the last four games.
"As long as we can get pressure in his face, that's what's going to dictate the game," Cooper said. "If you don't have guys in his face and he has an open window to see receivers, he's going to get the ball to them."
Manning said he's seen changes in the Chargers' defense.
"I just think they're playing real sound right now," he said. "They have always kind of feasted on teams that are making mistakes and aren't sure of what they're doing. They're always looking for turnovers and swarming to the football. They're getting a lot of those things right now. They're creating turnovers and just playing fast is what I've seen on film."
Getting to Manning once or twice isn't the answer, Rivera said.
"Just when you think you're getting there, he throws the ball. That was one of the things that happened to us in the Super Bowl. We thought we could run certain pressures. Unfortunately, we almost got there, but he found the breakdown in the coverage. You may get there a couple of times, but if you don't get there consistently, he will find the breakdown in the coverage."
Then there's the matter of Manning's audibles and hand gestures at the line of scrimmage. Rivera thinks some of them are dummy adjustments.
"I think that part of it, too, is for you to tip something, for you to show something that he's going to use against you. One of the things we talk to the guys about is, 'Hey, he's going to go through his rigamarole, just be patient."
There's no such thing as deciphering Manning's gestures, Rivera added.
"Just when you think you got it, something else happens. I did ask Peyton last time we played that when he's done, please write a book explaining to all of us coordinators exactly what you were doing just so we won't have to go through the rest of our lives wondering."