Chargers take scenic route to playoffs
December, 29, 2013
By Eric D. Williams | ESPN.com
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsThe Chargers caught some breaks Sunday and are heading to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season.SAN DIEGO -- The decision wasn't for the weak at heart.
But with the game in the balance, San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle did not hesitate on fourth down on his team's 28-yard line. He needed 2 yards to continue a winning drive in the 27-24 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Weddle serves as the personal protector on punt team, and has the green light to call a fake punt if he sees a defensive look he likes. Weddle called a successful fake punt against Denver at Qualcomm Stadium earlier this season at a similar spot on the field.
Weddle said he saw the look he could take advantage of again Sunday versus Kansas City. He signaled the fake was on. Weddle grabbed the snap and leaped over the line of scrimmage, needing every inch of his 5-foot-11, 200-pound body moving forward to get the first down.
Kansas City stripped the ball and tore off Weddle's helmet in the process, but the officials blew the play dead, giving Weddle enough forward progress for the first down.
With new life, the Chargers marched down the field and took the lead on a Nick Novak 36-yard field goal. Weddle and the rest of his defensive teammates made the lead stand -- the Chargers' only lead of the game -- sending San Diego to the postseason for the first time since the 2009 season.
"With that look I felt like we could get two yards as a punt team with me running the ball," Weddle said. "If we were going to go down, let's go down doing what we do, and that's playing aggressive until the end."
In a roller-coaster ride of the season, the Chargers took the scenic route to the playoffs. San Diego was 5-7 at one point this year, but they finished winning five of their final six games, including four straight to end the season.
And the Chargers believe they finally got some breaks. The most obvious one was Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop, Mr. Irrelevant in the 2009 draft, pushing his 41-yard field goal wide right, which would have won the game for the Chiefs in regulation.
Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said the missed field goal served as a sign that Sunday finally was his team's day.
"It gave us a second chance," Gates said. "Today in general was a second chance, when we saw Cincinnati beat Baltimore and Miami lose. That kick was another deep breath. We got past a close one. Once we got the ball, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to go out and score."
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said the missed field goal didn't make up for his team failing to win in late-game situations at Washington, Miami and Tennessee. But he acknowledged that perhaps fate had shined on a Chargers organization that has been perceived as snake-bitten of late.
"I don't like to play the old poor Chargers card -- that we had some bad breaks," Rivers said. "But it feels like we haven't won a game like this forever. A missed field goal, we're down 10 and everything fell right into our lap, and we almost let it get away from us.
"I know Pittsburgh is not very happy with us right now. But it just went our way. And saying it went our way, it did. But we made it go our way in a lot of ways. You've got to find a way to win."
San Diego appeared to be finding a way to lose early. Playing against a Kansas City team that already punched its ticket into the postseason and rested 20 of 22 starters, San Diego looked punch drunk in the opening quarter.
After Miami fell at home to the New York Jets and Baltimore lost on the road to Cincinnati, San Diego players knew all they needed was a win to make the playoffs. In control of their postseason chances, the Chargers appeared to finally feel the weight of what was at stake.
Led by quarterback Chase Daniel and running back Knile Davis, the Chiefs played like the team needing a victory to reach the postseason -- going up by as many as 10 points in the second quarter and taking a 21-14 halftime lead.
San Diego coach Mike McCoy tried to get his team to relax at the half.
"I told everyone at halftime, 'Just take a deep breath,'" McCoy said. "The game is what it is, and it's not the first time we've been down all year long. Just play one play at a time, and see what happens."
The players took McCoy's advice, exhaled and started playing up to their capabilities, eventually tying the score at 24 and sending it into overtime after Succop's hiccup.
And after timely plays such as Weddle's fourth-down conversion, the Chargers are the most unlikely team headed to the postseason in January.
"It's the most fun you can possibly have in life," Chargers center Nick Hardwick said. "I truly believe playoff football, there's nothing better. Win or go home -- there's no best of seven. The team who goes in, has the best game plan and executes the game plan the best wins the football game."