SAN DIEGO –They needed nothing short of a miracle. And the Chargers got one and then some.
As the Chargers took the field for warm ups on Sunday, the scoreboard at Qualcomm Stadium was being updated with how the New York Jets were doing against the Miami Dolphins, and what was happening between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens.
For the Chargers to make the playoffs this season, they’d need both the Bengals and the Jets to win their games.
The Chargers, too, would need a win against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.
And then came the miracle.
With the game tied at 24 in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs had control of the ball and the clock. The Chargers were out of timeouts and the Chiefs were about the kick the game winning field goal, ending the Chargers season.
Each second that ticked away must have felt like the proverbial punch to the gut for the Chargers, knowing their season was about to end.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid sent out his kicker Ryan Succop for the field goal. Succop’s kick missed, sending the game to overtime.
After receiving seemingly a second life, the Chargers won the coin toss and Nick Novak kicked a field goal, which would be enough to beat the Cheifs 27-24.
“Things happen for a reason,” said head coach Mike McCoy. “You don’t always understand it…we had some really hard losses this year, I’ll say that, but guys never skipped a beat.”
After a tumultuous mid-season when the Chargers were 5-7, they rallied, winning their next four games in a row, all at home.
Now, they’ll be heading to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
“There’s no words that can describe just what we had to deal with, overcoming adversity throughout the season and sticking together – is the main ingredient in my mind – that’s what got us to this point,” said tight end Antonio Gates.
Gates caught a 4-yard pass from Philip Rivers to score a touchdown in the second quarter. It was the 60th time the two have connected for a touchdown, the most in NFL history for a quarterback/tight end duo.
Rivers recalled the first touchdown pass he completed to Gates like it was yesterday: “In Oakland, in (2006). We threw the ball 11 times that game. And one of those was a touchdown to Gates. And to think there’s been 59 more after that – that’s a lot of touchdowns. As a quarterback to have a player like that to throw the ball to, you’re very thankful, it’s very special. He’s a special teammate and friend.”
Playing in spurts, Rivers said that even after stringing four wins in a row together, he thought the team had shown all season long that they can play well enough to be in the playoffs. “I think we had shown we could do it, we just weren’t consistent enough.”
Rivers admitted they didn’t play their best game on Sunday, but teams that are playoff teams find a way to win when they don’t play their best, he said.
Reaching the playoffs was the first goal, McCoy said. Their goal on Sunday was to get to 9-7. They couldn’t control what anybody else did, he added. “And fortunate enough for us, we went out for opening kickoff; we knew what we had out there for us.”
Rivers said he knows they’ll have their hands full when they face the Bengals in the first round of playoffs next weekend. “But we’ll be there and we’ll give them all we’ve got,” he said.
The Chargers will play the Bengals at 10:05 a.m. PST Jan. 5 on CBS.