Cromartie's first start at corner a smash hit

SAN DIEGO -- Chargers coaches told Antonio Cromartie before Sunday's game against the Colts that he was going to have a career day in his first start at cornerback.

How right they were. Cromartie, coming off special-teams player of the week honors after having a 109-yard return of a missed field goal last week, intercepted three Peyton Manning passes and will probably be named defensive player of the week.

"I'm not covering Peyton Manning, my biggest thing is to cover the receiver,'' Cromartie said after San Diego's 23-21 win. "Some balls were underthrown. My biggest thing was getting my hands on it."

Cromartie, who replaced injured starter Quentin Jammer, has incredibly large hands. Once, falling backward, he intercepted an underthrown Manning pass with one hand. Cromartie called it the best play of his career.

The Chargers saw enough in Cromartie to draft him in the 2006 first round despite limited playing time at Florida State. The Chargers used him as a third corner last year and were prepping him to be a starter in 2008. His speed and ability to break on the ball may make it hard for coaches to keep him off the field.

"I really haven't done anything different at all," Cromartie said. "My biggest thing was just to go out and play good football. These past few weeks I have been having great weeks of practice and have been technically sound. I watch a lot of film."

Against Manning, Cromartie was ready for anything. Little did he know he would be Manning's most consistent target in the first half. Reggie Wayne was the only Colts wide receiver to catch a pass in the first quarter. Cromartie had two picks by that time.

Chargers coaches figured Manning would pick on Cromartie.

"I think he was trying to come after me," Cromartie said of Manning. "But I just tried to hold my own and go out and have fun."

Good luck keeping him as only a third corner. Some players in the locker room said Cromartie merited Pro Bowl consideration after only one start.

"I just try to get my name out there a little bit,'' Cromartie said.

Three picks from Peyton Manning is pretty good start.

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.