SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers should have popped some bubbly in the locker room to celebrate the team’s first postseason berth since 2009, not fretted over the possibility being left out of the dance.
But at 8-7, the Chargers still need help to get into the playoffs because of games squandered against the Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans earlier this season, along with winnable contests that slipped away against playoff-caliber teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins.
“That’s our own fault,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We should have clinched a spot today. But those are all what ifs. We didn’t."
The Chargers were not at their best in a 26-13 victory against their hated rivals, the Oakland Raiders. San Diego turned the ball over three times, leading to 10 points for the Raiders. They settled for four Nick Novak field goals instead of punching the ball into the end zone.
But San Diego persevered. Unlike earlier this season, the Chargers found a way to win instead of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Chargers have now won three straight, and four of their last five games.
“We talked to the team and told them to keep on playing,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “It’s one play at a time. There are going to be some bad plays in games. That’s a good football team over there, a good defense and we just kept on fighting.”
Unlike last week, when Miami and Baltimore both found ways to win, the Chargers got some help on Sunday. Buffalo shut out the Dolphins 19-0, and New England throttled Baltimore 41-7, leaving all three teams competing for the final wild-card berth at 8-7 heading into the final week of the regular season.
The Chargers have to defeat Kansas City at home next week, along with Baltimore losing at Cincinnati and Miami losing at home to the New York Jets to grab the last AFC playoff spot.
“We all know what games affected us,” Rivers said. “And all three went our way today, including the one we had control of. So we’ll be in the same boat next week. We need all three to go our way. The only one we can control is the one here against the Chiefs.
“So whatever those teams do, we want to be 9-7. And if that’s our last game, that’s our last game. We can say we won four of the last five, won four in a row and finished the way teams with character finish. If we get a bonus game the next week we’ll be fired up about it.”
McCoy said the players watched part of the Miami-Buffalo game in the locker room before pre-game warm-ups. And scoring updates for the Baltimore-New England game were announced at Qualcomm Stadium, bringing cheers to the crowd.
“It definitely served as motivation,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “There were all types of stuff going through our head once we found out those guys lost. And Baltimore was losing throughout our game, so we just had to find a way to win.”
The Chargers will have to find a way to win one more next week to keep playing.
“This is what it’s all about,” McCoy said. “This is what we’re in the business for. And we tell the players all the time, ‘Big-time players make big-time plays in big games.’ And we’ve got a big game coming up. And we’ve got to play our best game of the year. It’s all or nothing.”