San Diego Chargers: Eric Weddle

With his team's offseason program underway, San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle’s long, gnarly beard is back for an encore. The cat-quick safety looks ready for an appearance on "Duck Dynasty."

“It's definitely through the season,” Weddle said, when asked when he'll shave his beard. “Hopefully it’s through the Super Bowl, and I’ll cut it. But I want to get it down to here maybe (pointing to his chest), and then braid it and cut it. But who knows.”

Weddle says he can barely buckle his chin strap.

[+] EnlargeEric Weddle
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSafety Eric Weddle looks back at the 2013 Chargers and projects ahead to the 2014 season by saying, "I expect us to play at that level or even higher."
“I’m going to have to figure that out,” Weddle said. “It bothered me all season. I’m going to have to figure out something there because my helmet kept coming off. And that’s not fun when you’re tackling someone and your helmet’s coming off.”

A year ago after the Chargers hired head coach Mike McCoy, Weddle made an interesting proclamation, calling San Diego the best team in the league. Cue the laugh track.

But the Chargers proved closer to Weddle's prediction than perhaps fans and folks around the NFL believed, finishing eight quarters away from the Super Bowl.

“To finally get back to the position was really exciting -- to get back and have those games finally mean something,” Weddle said about last season. “But we have a lot of work to do. Everyone’s getting better in our division, around the conference and in our league. And everyone has high aspirations.”

So how do the Chargers build on what happened last season?

“We have a lot of guys back that were playing at that time,” Weddle said. “And another year of experience, another year of getting coached up by the great coaches that we have, will only make us better in the long run.

“I expect us to play at that level or even higher. We expect a higher level of play from us. Those last eight games that we played at the end of the year, that’s what we expect from us for next season.”

Individually, after taking a few weeks off, Weddle said he's taken up yoga to improve his flexibility, along with regularly playing pick-up basketball to stay in shape.

He maintains a clear and simple aspiration to work toward during the offseason.

“To be the best,” Weddle said. “It’s as simple as that. Each year you look at yourself. Where weren't you good? Where were your negative plays, and why did it happen? Was it physical, or mental? Was it timing? Is it something you can work on, or is it something that happened, and earlier in the season wasn't happening?

“You look at all of those things, try and correct it and be coachable.”

While the Chargers finished the 2013 regular season by winning four straight and making the playoffs for the first time since 2009, like Weddle, quarterback Philip Rivers understands there's still room for improvement.

"I think it's quickly realizing that we were 5-7," Rivers said. “We were struggling there for a bit. It wasn't like we were lights out all year long. So I think we take what we can take that was good, and quickly put that behind us and try to become a team again.”

Morning Links: Developmental QBs

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
Good Morning. San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers turns 33 years old this year, and has two years left on his current deal.

Backup Charlie Whitehurst is set to hit free agency in March, and second-year pro Brad Sorensen is the only other quarterback on the Chargers’ current roster. With a lack of depth at the position, San Diego could look to draft a developmental quarterback this year to groom as an eventual replacement for Rivers.

ESPN's Kevin Seifert examines a handful of second-tier quarterbacks in this year’s draft that could develop like Russell Wilson did for Seattle. I like Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas as a developmental prospect.

Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego ranks safety Eric Weddle the Chargers No. 2 player from the 2013 season.

Rick Orlov of the Los Angeles Daily News reports that AEG’s plan for building an NFL stadium in Los Angeles are still in play.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock gives us his top five position-by-position break down. Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is Mayock’s top corner, followed by Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller.

Pro Football Focus ranks Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett the top edge rusher available in free agency.

Marshawn Lynch demonstrates to an aspiring Brazilian player what happen if you don’t lower shoulder in this video link.
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 12
Preseason Power Ranking: 23

Biggest surprise: The production from rookie receiver Keenan Allen is the headline here, with the turnaround of quarterback Philip Rivers a close second. The rookie season of Allen, picked in the third round of 2013 draft, was supposed to be a redshirt year. But season-ending injuries to Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander forced the Cal product to play sooner rather than later. After a sluggish start, Allen responded. He finished the regular season with 71 receptions for 1,046 yards, and tied for the team lead in touchdowns with eight. Allen finished with eight catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns in the postseason, emerging as an offensive rookie of the year candidate and San Diego's No. 1 receiver.

Biggest disappointment: Cornerback Derek Cox signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Chargers in free agency as the team's top cornerback but failed to live up to that expectation. Cox gave up several big plays and was one of the reasons San Diego's secondary struggled during the first half of the season. Cox ultimately was replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Richard Marshall in Week 13.

Biggest need: More talent in the secondary, with a pass rush help and beefing up the interior of the offensive line a close second. The Chargers gave up 23 passing touchdowns this season, No. 12 in the NFL, but 18 of those came in the first 11 games of the season. And San Diego also finished with just 11 interceptions on the season, No. 26 in the league. Veteran safety Eric Weddle played solid, mistake-free football for the most part in earning his second Pro Bowl berth, but he needs help. Shareece Wright gradually played better in his first season as a starter, but overall San Diego needs to add more young talent in the secondary.

Team MVP: Rivers elevated the play of the entire offense and deserves to be part of the conversation of league MVP. In his 10th season, Rivers benefited from former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's conversion of San Diego's offense to a short passing game. Rivers finished in the top five in completion percentage (69.5 percent), yards per pass (8.23), passing yards (4,478), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (105.5). At 32 years old, Rivers looks like he still has the ability to play a few more years at an elite level. The Chargers need to add a couple of more pieces on offense to make his job easier.

SAN DIEGO -- Mike McCoy's journey to earning the head coaching job of the San Diego Chargers began north of the border, playing quarterback for the CFL's Calgary Stampeders.

McCoy was a midseason replacement for Calgary in August 1999 after Dave Dickenson and Henry Burris suffered injuries. He learned on the run, completing 117 of 183 passes (64 percent) for 1,669 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

[+] EnlargeMike McCoy
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsRookie head coach Mike McCoy says he taps into his experience as a player to better prepare him as the Chargers' leader.
According to his college head coach at the University of Utah, Ron McBride, McCoy learned Calgary's entire playbook in a day.

"That's his whole thing -- he's intelligent," McBride said. "He doesn't get rattled. He's confident. He knows what to do. Pressure doesn't bother him. He's the same way coaching. He doesn't get rattled. He has the same demeanor throughout the game."

McCoy led Calgary to the Grey Cup as an injury replacement, losing to Hamilton 32-21. Calgary wanted him back the following season, but at 28 years old, McCoy was ready to relinquish his dream of playing professional football.

Former San Francisco head coach George Seifert had taken a new job as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, offering McCoy a chance to work as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

"This was an opportunity of a lifetime," McCoy said. "I had always thought about it, and people had always talked to me about coaching. But to make that jump at such a young age and to work for a great coach like George Seifert and Jerry Richardson, as an owner, I couldn't pass it up."

McCoy quickly switched over to pursuing another dream -- becoming a head coach in the NFL.

Fast forward 14 years later and McCoy has reached his goal. One of eight new head coaches hired in 2013, McCoy is the only one still left in the postseason. That impressive fact is a testament to living up to his word when he first addressed the Chargers after being hired on Jan. 15, 2013.

On his way out the door after being relieved of his head-coaching duties, Norv Turner said San Diego had some serious work to do to once again become a playoff contender. But McCoy proved Turner wrong, leading the Chargers to the playoffs just a year later.

"From the very beginning in the first meeting, it was about us," safety Eric Weddle said. "It's not rebuilding. We're going to do things right, on and off the field. You're going to be a good person, and it's going to transfer over. And the ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl.

"From the onset, that's what it's all been -- being confident and believing in each other. Every day he's preached it, consistency and belief, belief, belief -- that we can go in, play with anyone and beat anyone. And when you hear it every day, and the older guys transfer it down and push this team in the right direction, you're capable of doing anything."

McCoy, 41, instituted a dress code for game days, making players wear a suit and tie on road trips, giving birth to Philip Rivers' bolo ties. McCoy's a task master, paying attention to every detail of this team's schedule from sunup to sundown.

McCoy has a tough, no-nonsense attitude. He can be a bit paranoid about injury situations regarding his players, divulging as little information as possible on the status of his star performers heading into a game day.

But he also has built a bond and a trust with the Chargers by showing he cares about them. And that nurturing attitude stems from McCoy's time as a fringe player in the NFL and a star player at the University of Utah.

McCoy went to training camp with Denver in 1995, signing with Green Bay's practice squad that year. He played for NFL Europe's Amsterdam Admirals, and also spent time in San Francisco and Philadelphia before concluding his career with Calgary in 1999.

In college, McCoy led the Utes to a 10-win season and a 1994 Freedom Bowl victory over the University of Arizona's "Desert Swarm" defense.

"Being a former player you can always relate back to the players," McCoy said. "That is one thing that helps me now. I was very fortunate to only have one injury and it was in college. You see the ups and downs, and the losses you take at certain times that are harder than others."

San Diego's success did not come early. The Chargers hit a season-low at 5-7 during the 2013 campaign, but tight end Antonio Gates said players finally started to believe in McCoy's philosophy and approach.

That belief, along with key players such as King Dunlap, Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram returning to the field, resulted in a five-game winning streak -- and the Chargers being eight quarters away from the Super Bowl.

"Mike is very detailed, and very understanding," Gates said. "I can't say enough about what he brings to this team. The leadership ability that he has, and the ability to keep us poised in tough times, to me all those messages he tried to put out, unfortunately it took time for us to comprehend and buy in. And now we're just at a point where that's happening for us offensively and defensively as a group."

When the 2013 season began, the AFC West didn't really come up when the national conversation turned toward divisions that would provide the most playoff teams or Super Bowl potential from top to bottom.

Yet with four teams left in the AFC's postseason bracket, two of them call the division home, with the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos and the No. 6 San Diego Chargers set for the season’s third meeting on Sunday. They split the two games in the regular season, with each team winning on the road -- the Broncos by eight in San Diego and the Chargers by seven in Denver.

It will be the first time the Chargers and Broncos have met in the postseason, but San Diego is 2-0 in playoff games against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning with wins in the 2007 and 2008 postseasons. Chargers reporter Eric Williams and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss the matchup.

Jeff Legwold: Eric, there were some who questioned the Chargers’ playoff worthiness when all of the dominoes fell in the regular season’s final week and they earned the AFC’s No. 6 seed. But with the win in Cincinnati, how do they see themselves at the moment -- playoff underdog or a team with a chance for more?

Eric Williams: Veteran players emphasized this week that playoff opportunities are precious, noting the fact that the Chargers have not made the playoffs since 2009. So guys like Philip Rivers and Eric Weddle want to see how far they can take it. Both mentioned the Chargers are only eight quarters away from the Super Bowl -- unbelievable when six weeks ago this team was 5-7 and an afterthought at making the postseason. Giving players more confidence is the fact that San Diego beat the Broncos in Denver just a month ago. The Chargers understand the deck is stacked against them facing a well-rested Manning. But they are playing with house money, and I suspect they will play with a lot of confidence and urgency on Sunday.

How is Manning handling all of the questions concerning his so-so record in the playoffs? And will that serve as motivation on Sunday?

Legwold: If you had to make a list of questions that cause Manning to put up the verbal deflector shields the fastest, the glove, anything that includes the phrase “all the way back," cold weather and the playoff record would be among the top items. He handles most everything in the public domain with a professional mixture of grace and the ability to move the conversation on -- he’s got plenty of experience in front of people to be sure. But in the end, Manning is a driven player -- one of the most driven players to have worn a helmet -- and everything is motivation. He doesn’t often let people on the outside see all that, but offered a glimpse after his 400-yard day against the Titans this season on a frigid afternoon when he told the team’s flagship radio station people could take the Manning-struggles-in-the-cold narrative and “stick it where the sun don't shine." So, the lure of the Super Bowl is always powerful for him, but he certainly uses plenty of things to maintain his focus, and any sort of criticism is in that pile somewhere.

Rivers has always been a thorn for the Broncos, but he attempted only 20 passes -- completing 12 -- in the Chargers’ win in Denver on Dec. 12, and he went 12-for-16 passing in the Chargers’ win over the Bengals last week. Is relying on the run the best thing for the Chargers’ offense, and would you expect a similar approach Sunday?

Williams: It all depends on the health of Ryan Mathews. The Fresno State product probably does not get enough credit for San Diego’s resurgence this season. But the Chargers have morphed into a running team the second half of the year. San Diego is 7-1 when Mathews rushes at least 19 times in a game. His ability to get to the edge of a defense with his speed, along with his physicality, has created a nice balance to San Diego’s offense so that Rivers doesn’t have to make all the plays. Mathews has a lingering ankle injury. He’s expected to play on Sunday, but how effective Mathews will be remains to be seen. If Mathews can’t play, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown will pick up the slack. San Diego coach Mike McCoy has confidence his team can win in a shootout if they have to open the offense up.

You’ve talked about Denver’s inconsistencies on defense, which has been a problem all season. Will Champ Bailey play in this game? And if so, how will that help the secondary?

Legwold: Bailey played, essentially as the nickel corner, in the Broncos’ final two games of the regular season and will be in the lineup on Sunday. He played 35 snaps against the Houston Texans and 22 snaps against the Oakland Raiders. While those offenses had their fair share of struggles this season, the Broncos had two of their best outings of the year, surrendering 13 and 14 points to go with 240 and 255 yards, respectively, in those two games. Bailey hasn’t played out of the slot a great deal in his time with the Broncos, save for when the receiver he was matched with would line up there, but he has all the tools to be very good in there -- smart, plays with anticipation and has the ability, even in his 15th season, to change directions quickly and react on the ball. It has made the Broncos' secondary much better than what the Chargers have seen in the two meetings this year -- Bailey didn’t play in either game. The Broncos just have more options in how they deploy people in coverage and it gives them a top three at the position of Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris. That’s a quality trio that enables the Broncos to do a few more things to try to affect Rivers.

Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano has, for the most part, taken a page from the Bill Belichick manual for facing Manning -- coverage over pressure. How would you expect the Chargers to defend Manning and the Broncos’ offense? And how aggressive do you think they will be doing it?

Williams: I expect going in that Pagano will try a similar approach to what his defense executed so effectively in the last matchup: a mix of pressures and looks that force Manning to get the ball out quickly to underneath routes, and then rallying to the football. San Diego wants to limit big plays, keep the ball in front of them and tackle well. But one thing the Chargers have had success with is making in-game adjustments when things are not going well. The wild card here again is McCoy. Because he’s worked with Manning in the past, McCoy understands his strengths and weaknesses, and what he likes to go to in certain situations. And that will be used in Pagano’s game planning for Sunday.

San Diego surprised the Broncos a month ago by winning in Denver. What did the Broncos learn from that setback? And what are a couple key things Denver needs to accomplish in order to defeat the pesky Chargers and move on?

Legwold: That game came on a short week and you could see the table getting set for a Broncos' loss in the days leading up to the Dec. 12 win for the Chargers. Many of the Broncos players spent a great deal of time talking about how much they didn’t like playing on Thursday nights, how good the rest would be in the weekend that followed. And then they played like a team more concerned about just getting through a game than winning it. There have been no such issues this week. The Broncos will be focused on the task at hand this time. On the field, they have to keep the Chargers from converting third downs and putting drives together. San Diego repeatedly pounded away in the run game at the Broncos' lighter personnel groupings, particularly in the nickel, and the Broncos can’t allow that to happen again. The Chargers' defense was effective rushing Manning over the left side -- especially between left tackle Chris Clark and left guard Zane Beadles. This time, if the Broncos keep Manning cleaner on his blind side, they will move the ball.

Eric WeddleStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesEric Weddle led San Diego in tackles during the regular season with 115.

SAN DIEGO -- A season's worth of bushy brown hair hangs uncomfortably from Eric Weddle's face, making it hard for him to buckle his chin strap on game days.

Weddle's beard serves as the inspiration for his Twitter handle -- @weddlesbeard, what else? -- emerging as somewhat of a symbol for the San Diego Chargers' improbable playoff run. Weddle says he won't shave it off until his team reaches the Super Bowl, or is eliminated from the postseason.

He received the epiphany of growing a beard after seeing an old picture of his father, Steven Weddle, fishing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, similar to this photo he posted on Twitter.

“I wondered if I could grow one because I never had one in my life,” he said. “It's a part of me now. I like it. It's cool."

Weddle also had his hair cut into a Mohawk at the start of this season as promise to his son, Gaige, who also shaved his head into a Mohawk.

But bushy beards and unique haircuts do not define Weddle the football player. His play does. The 29-year-old is one of the most versatile safeties in the game, the glue that holds together San Diego's much improved defense together.

“We've been the underdog all year,” Weddle said. “I've been the underdog my whole life. It's no different. We're out to continue to believe in ourselves. The great thing about this team is the struggles, and the ups and downs have really molded us into what we are right now, which is a confident belief in one another.”

The Chargers can thank this year's second-half run for the improvements made on defense, specifically the secondary.

San Diego allowed 23 passing touchdowns during the regular season, No. 12 in the league. But just five of those came in the team's final five games.

The Chargers forced 12 turnovers, including seven interceptions in the past six games, helping the defense hold teams to 16 points a contest. Also, the Chargers are holding teams to 35 percent on third downs during that stretch, consistently giving the ball back to an offense that leads the league in time of possession.

The return of linebackers Donald Butler, Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram from injuries helped improve the talent level and overall play on defense.

But at the heart of San Diego's turnaround has been the steady play of Weddle.

“How he plays the game and how he approaches it has been the key to a lot of our success,” Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano said. “He keeps getting better each week. He's a gamer, and that's what we need from him.”

“He's a football player,” added Pagano. “He's the other coordinator on the field that leads and get people lined up.”

Weddle earned his second invitation to the Pro Bowl this season, leading San Diego in tackles during the regular season with 115. He's also been a first or second-team All-Pro selection the last four years -- the only player at his position who can say that.

“He's a great player,” Chargers cornerback Shareece Wright said. “He's a great leader. He's always keeping us on top of our game, and always helping us out. He's like a quarterback back there.”

Weddle has 18 interceptions and six sacks over his seven-year career. And at 5-11 and 200 pounds, don't sleep on his speed.

“People underestimate how athletic this guy is,” Chargers secondary coach Ron Milus said. “He is a tremendous athlete -- quick, fast. He's able to hit, so I think people underestimate his athletic ability, and how good the kid is.

“If need be, he can play corner. So he can play anything other than defensive line. He's smart enough to handle all of that stuff. He's probably the brightest guy on our defense, knowing exactly what everyone has to do at all times.”

Weddle might not make the highlight reel hit across the middle, but he is a sure tackler. Perhaps Weddle's greatest strengths are his overall understanding of the game and ability to play with anticipation, which sometimes allows the San Diego safety to be in place to make a big play before the ball is snapped.

While he may go under the radar nationally playing in a sleepy town like San Diego without much media attention, Weddle believes he's one of the best at his position.

“I think I have respect from players, coaches and certain media who watch the games,” Weddle said. “I'm not a youngster anymore. I don't really worry or waste my energy on where I rank and this and that. I know where I'm at. I think I'm one of the best. If you don't think that, then that's your opinion.

“I know what I bring to this team in what roles I do. And I feel like when you look at me and what I can do, there's not many guys who can do that.”

Weddle will face one of the toughest challenges in his career in trying to get the best of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff matchup. But Weddle can look to his past experiences for more inspiration.

Weddle has three career interceptions against Manning, two of which have been returned for touchdowns.

“It's difficult no matter what, no matter how many times you're playing him,” Weddle said about playing against Manning. “He's so good at the line of scrimmage. He very rarely makes mistakes, or forces the ball into areas. You could be in position all game, and never really get the ball thrown at you. And the one time you're not, he'll find you and it will hurt you.

“It's very stressful. Play by play you really have to take that role that, this could be the difference of winning or losing on every play against him, because that's how good he is. He can kill you if you're not in the right position.”
SAN DIEGO -- For a second straight day, running back Ryan Mathews and center Nick Hardwick did not practice for the San Diego Chargers, creating some uncertainty that they will be available for Sunday’s AFC divisional round contest at Denver.

Mathews continues to wear a protective walking boot on his ailing left ankle to speed up the healing process. Hardwick sported a baseball cap and jersey while watching his position group go through individual drills during the early stages of practice.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy provided no timetable for either player's return. However, McCoy indicated on Wednesday that Mathews was on the same management program by the team’s training staff as the last two weeks, sitting out on Wednesday and Thursday, working as a limited participant on Friday, and playing on Sunday.

Hardwick has yet to pass the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Along with those two, receiver Eddie Royal (toe) and guard Jeromey Clary (shoulder) did not practice. But right tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle) returned as a limited participant after missing practice on Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (shoulder) also was a limited participant on Thursday, and left tackle King Dunlap (ankle), defensive end Kendall Reyes (ankle), and safety Eric Weddle (hamstring) were full participants.

Weddle missed practice on Wednesday as a rest day.
CINCINNATI -- Three things to know about the San Diego Chargers' matchup against the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional round on Sunday at Sports Authority Field:

1. No secrets: These two teams have played twice in the past eight weeks, so they’ve pretty much seen everything the other team has to offer. The Chargers will have some confidence playing at Denver because they won there just three weeks ago, a 27-20 victory in a nationally televised Thursday night contest. San Diego's defense held the Broncos’ Peyton Manning-led offense to its lowest point total of the season. That said, the Chargers also understand that Manning likely will have a few more tricks up his sleeve this time.

2. Streaking: San Diego has won five consecutive games and six of its past seven. The Chargers are playing with a lot of confidence and remain dangerous because of the carefree, energetic way they perform on both sides of the ball. San Diego players said they could see the Bengals tightening up in the second half with the game slipping away. The Broncos are a team expected to go to the Super Bowl, so if San Diego can put pressure on Denver by getting ahead early, perhaps the Broncos could suffer the same fate as last year, when they lost to Baltimore.

3. Veteran leadership: Longtime Chargers such as Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Eric Weddle and Nick Hardwick have helped provide focus for this young team, exuding a quiet confidence that shows up on the playing field. As it's done throughout the second half of the season, San Diego does not get rattled when things do not go its way. That ability to handle adversity serves it well in the playoffs. The Chargers essentially have been in playoff mode since Week 14 of the regular season, so they approach each week with a sense of urgency that other teams have failed to match until this point.
CINCINNATI -- Although it’s been four years since the San Diego Chargers have been in the playoffs, they do have some guys who have been here before.

Six players on San Diego’s roster were with the team when the Chargers advanced to the playoffs in 2009 -- Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Nick Hardwick, Eric Weddle, Jeromey Clary, and Mike Scifres.

"It’s kind of like we are back,” Rivers said. “We are in it. We are alive. We have a chance. It’s special. Opportunity is just the first step. We are not in here high-fiving like it’s a destination. Everybody is 0-0 and we have a chance just like everyone else.”

Another 10 players on San Diego’s roster have played in the postseason for other teams. So the Chargers will count on veterans like Rivers and Weddle to explain to the younger players who have not performed in the postseason how to get ready for the team’s big game on Sunday here in Cincinnati.

On the other sideline, the Bengals have 37 players who were in the postseason for Cincinnati last season.

“There’s nothing like the playoffs,” Weddle said. “The atmosphere, the speed of the game, how intense (it is) and how vital each play is. The possessions shrink down.

“You’re going good-on-good, so instead of 12 possessions a game, you’re looking at nine, eight, sometimes. Every play matters. It’s exciting. You live for it.”

Rivers and Weddle spent this week explaining to younger players like running back Ryan Mathews the higher intensity level that comes with NFL playoff games.

“I’ve heard it’s a lot faster, with the intensity and the crowd,” Mathews said. “I heard everything is just amped up, tenfold.”

Chargers rookie receiver Keenan Allen said the biggest game he’s played in up to this point was the 2011 Holiday Bowl for Cal, a 21-10 loss to Texas. But Allen acknowledges a college bowl game does not rival NFL playoff football.

“I had a bowl game my sophomore year in college, but I don’t think it will be as intense as a playoff game in the NFL,” he said. “I expect a fast game, a lot of competition out there. And hopefully we do a good job.”

And what will be your approach, Keenan?

“Just play football,” Allen said. “That’s what it comes down to every week -- just a different team, different uniform.”
San Diego ChargersChristopher 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."
SAN DIEGO -- Good morning. Bill Barnwell of Grantland calculates the San Diego Chargers’ chances of making the playoffs in the final week of the season at 11.5 percent.

You can view playoff scenarios for each team still in the hunt here.

If the draft were today, the Chargers would pick No. 20.

Will Brinson of CBS Sports gives the Chargers a B-plus grade for the team’s performance against Oakland. Brinson: “San Diego struggled early but Philip Rivers came on strong in the second half. Ryan Mathews keeps establishing himself as a legit feature back. The defense shut down the Raiders in the second half and San Diego keeps their playoff hopes alive.”

Peter King of Sports Illustrated places the Chargers at No. 12 in his Fine Fifteen. King: “Road wins over Kansas City and Denver in the last month, and the feeling that you do not want to face Philip Rivers (69.7 percent passing, 29-10 touchdown-to-interception differential) in January.”

Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego says the Chargers could be a team of fate.

Ricky Henne of talks to Eric Weddle about his acrobatic interception.
SAN DIEGO -- Philip Rivers admitted to rooting for the New England Patriots this weekend.

“It’s certainly one of the few times I ever have,” River said.

But the San Diego Chargers did not get the result they wanted, with the Patriots losing at Miami over the weekend. Still, Rivers understands his team can’t get caught watching the scoreboard as they fight for an AFC wild-card spot.

“What’s most important for our team is just to focus on trying to win another division game and see if we can get to 8-7,” Rivers said. “I think worrying about anything more than that doesn’t help you at all. Worry about anything more than that would be silly, really, because we can only control our end.”

Running back Ryan Mathews, receiver Eddie Royal, safety Eric Weddle and defensive back Johnny Patrick did not take the field during an hour-long practice for the Chargers.

Monday was a bonus workout day, as San Diego coach Mike McCoy gets his team prepared for the final two weeks of the season.

Mathews has been dealing with a lingering hamstring issue, while Royal has had a toe injury limit his work in practice for the past two months.

Patrick missed last week’s game against Denver because of an ankle injury. And Weddle’s missed practice was a rest day.

“It’s huge for this team,” Weddle said about the extra rest. “It’s very rare that you get an extra bye week this late in the season to kind of rejuvenate yourself, and get those injuries that you’ve had bothering you, get them healed up for the last couple games.”

Weddle was asked how much he and his teammates worry about the loss of earlier games this season against teams like Tennessee, Houston and Washington -- wins that would have put them in better position to make the playoffs.

“We can lament and kick ourselves for those losses,” Weddle said. “Or we can worry about what we can control, and that’s two games left in the season. I really don’t care what happened in the previous 14 games because they’re gone, and I’m focused on the Raiders. And that’s what this whole team is focused on -- trying to build on what we’ve done the last couple weeks and finish the season strong.”
SAN DIEGO -- A couple defensive players for the Chargers owned up to mental and physical mistakes that led to Denver tight end Julius Thomas sprinting down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown on what seemed like a harmless out route.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy said during his conversation with reporters here on Monday that his defense had a couple break downs on the play. Initially, outside linebacker Larry English didn't bump Thomas off the line before rushing the passer.

The Chargers had a busted coverage when the flat defender, inside linebacker Manti Te'o, didn't get to his zone responsibility in time to cover Thomas. McCoy didn't name who had the flat route, but safety Eric Weddle later confirmed during locker room availability that it was Te'o.

“The linebacker needs to take him to the flat, because that's his guy,” Weddle said. “Derek needs to either make the tackle or turn him back in, and I don't need to assume that the tackle's made, or he's stopped.

“It's very disappointing, especially to myself. I'm not too happy about it. It's actually embarrassing. But I know it will never happen again.”

McCoy also said that cornerback Derek Cox and Weddle have to make the tackle and get Thomas down.

In going back and re-watching the play, Weddle appeared to pull up, assuming that Cox would get Thomas out of bounds.

“Derek and Eric both had a chance there to get him out of bounds, and we didn't do it,” McCoy said. “So it was just poor execution all the way from the snap to the finish.”

Added Te'o: “I've got to do better with my eyes. I've got to know the situations and know my responsibilities. And I've got to do a better job of getting my eyes in the right place.”

The busted coverage was a microcosm of San Diego's struggles to get lined up correctly and into the right play call against Denver's up-tempo, no-huddle attack orchestrated by quarterback Peyton Manning.

“The big thing I told the team before the game is ‘All 11 on the same page before every play,'” McCoy said. “That's the most important thing. Don't come to the sideline saying I didn't get the call. I said don't get caught up in all the stuff he's doing -- it's about us.”

McCoy was asked if Cox will start against Miami this weekend, and if he thought it was productive to have Cox on such a short leash. Cox was benched for a second straight game after the play, but returned to the field later in the game.

“We'll let you know as the week goes on,” McCoy said. “We're going to do what we think is best to help the football team win, week in and week out. We're not going to be afraid to make changes. We'll sit down as a staff and do what we think is best moving forward.”
SAN DIEGO -- At 4-4 overall at the midpoint, the San Diego Chargers are about where they should be heading into the season's backstretch.

Quarterback Philip Rivers' bounce-back season has been one of the main storylines for this team, along with the return of a competitive spirit established by first-year head coach Mike McCoy.

Still, the Chargers face a daunting schedule if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. San Diego still has five AFC West division contests left -- two each against division leaders Kansas City and Denver.

SAN DIEGO -- Donald Butler, the San Diego Chargers’ middle linebacker who has missed practice all week, was absent from Friday's practice and is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game at Washington.

Butler missed the past two games with a groin issue. If Butler does not play, Andrew Gachkar will start in his place, with reserve linebacker Reggie Walker subbing in on passing situations.

Reserve offensive lineman Mike Remmers (ankle) also did not practice all week, and has been ruled out for Sunday. Receiver Eddie Royal did not practice at all this week because of a toe injury, and is listed as questionable.

However, Royal did not practice at all two weeks ago leading up to the Jacksonville game and he played. Royal wore a walking boot during practice this week.

“He came out, and he’s been working hard in what he needs to do,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “And we’ll make that decision come game time with what we think is best for him.”

Offensive lineman Chad Rinehart was a limited participant again on Friday, and is listed as questionable with a toe injury. Rinehart hasn’t played in a month, but could see some time against Washington, although Johnnie Troutman likely will continue to start at left guard.

“He looked good,” McCoy said about Rinehart. “He got better every day. As the week went on, he got more and more comfortable. I think when you’ve missed the time that he’s missed, it’s just a matter of getting back out there and doing it again.”

Safety Eric Weddle (toe), defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe) and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (hamstring) were full participants on Friday, and are listed as probable for Sunday’s game.