Even after pulling off one of the biggest wins of the NFL season, the San Diego Chargers may have a hard time making the postseason.
The Chargers visit the Kansas City Chiefs in a matchup of teams scrambling to make the playoffs.
San Diego ended Indianapolis’ hopes for an undefeated season last week with a 26-17 victory, but that win only kept the Chargers’ playoff hopes alive. San Diego needs to win out and get some help to earn a postseason berth.
San Diego lost control of its playoff destiny by falling 23-21 to Miami at home two weeks ago, dropping the Chargers into a tie with Pittsburgh for the final wild-card spot. The Steelers hold the tiebreaker over the Chargers, having them beaten them 24-22 in Week 5.
The Chargers are only one game behind Jacksonville, but the Jaguars and Steelers have easier schedules remaining. Jacksonville plays Houston (2-12) and Tennessee (4-10), while Pittsburgh faces Cleveland (5-9) and Detroit (4-10).
“The only thing is to keep winning,” said running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who needs one touchdown to break Chuck Muncie’s single-season club record of 19, set in 1981. “That alone, we did all we can do. Yeah, we’re depending on other teams, but hey, we’ve got to keep winning, starting with this week, which is going to be tough.”
San Diego can actually win the AFC West, but that’s unlikely after Denver won last week to clinch a playoff spot and maintain its two-game lead in the division. The Broncos would have to lose their final two games while the Chargers win both of theirs. Denver plays Oakland this week before coming to San Diego for the season finale.
“I am definitely pulling for the Raiders,” Tomlinson said. “I don’t ever recall saying, ‘I’m going for the Raiders.”’
Those scenarios would not have been possible if the Chargers hadn’t stunned the Colts. San Diego sacked Peyton Manning four times and Michael Turner, filling in while Tomlinson nursed a rib injury on the sideline, sealed the victory with an 83-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes.
“We believed we were going to go there and win, keep our playoff hopes alive,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “Of course, everybody’s talking about the streak being broken and everything else. But really, for us, that was just another team in our path and another game we had to win in order to go on and achieve the goals we set at the beginning of the year.”
Kansas City also faces a hard road to the playoffs after two straight defeats. The Chiefs lost 31-28 to Dallas two weeks ago when Lawrence Tynes missed a 41-yard field goal at the end of the game, and Kansas City’s poor tackling allowed the New York Giants’ Tiki Barber to rush for a team-record 220 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-17 defeat last week.
Kansas City’s late-season struggles has coach Dick Vermeil contemplating leaving after the season.
“Yeah, I think about (retirement), especially when you walk out of that New York Giants stadium with your (tail) handed to you, embarrassed,” Vermeil said. “This is what I do for a living, coach a football team. Just like you take pride in what you do. When you’re embarrassed you get upset: `What the hell am I doing here?’
“But I don’t feel that way today.”
Kansas City has won 17 consecutive home games in December, a streak dating to 1997, when San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer was coaching the Chiefs.
Kansas City’s situation, though, is even more dire than San Diego’s. The Chiefs are a game behind the Chargers and Steelers in the wild-card race, and San Diego holds the tiebreaker over Kansas City.
Vermeil, who said he’ll make a decision about retiring within the next three weeks, said his team should play hard whether it qualifies for the postseason or not.
“We won four of our last five games last year with no hopes of the playoffs,” he said. “Professional football players get paid to play. That’s how they earn their living. They get evaluated every single day by us and any other team that might be interested in them next year or next year when they’re free agents.
“I expect our football team, regardless of having an incentive of playoffs, to play well. That is an added incentive.”
One Chief who has continued to play hard every week is Larry Johnson, who rolled up 167 yards and two TDs against New York for his club-record seven straight 100-yard game.
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