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NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
My, what a difference a month makes.
When last seeing the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 1, the San Diego Chargers had just been defeated 17-10 to go two games under .500 at 5-7. The Bengals left San Diego with a win while listening to most declare the Chargers for dead.
On Sunday when the Chargers (9-7) take the field at Paul Brown Stadium, they will be returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The Chargers needed plenty of help to flip their season, but don't overlook what they did: winning four straight games after failing to give up on a season in which most others had already toe-tagged.
"It's been a real long time," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said about the team's three-year playoff-free rut. "It feels great to be back in, especially because the season ends early and it makes for a longer offseason. Even in the cases we have been in, we obviously had the one run, but even when it's just extended a week in those other years, you gave yourself a chance. That's what we have done here and we have tough road ahead starting this week, but we are fired up."
Fired up, ready to go and familiar with the Bengals after battling them just one month ago.
"You have a good idea of what they have done," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "We studied them not long ago. Teams are going to put certain wrinkles in. As the season goes on and you get into the playoffs or play a team for the second time, they are going to have some changes."
But not wholesale changes, McCoy said. That goes for the Chargers, too.
"The foundation is in place; it is the same thing for us," McCoy added. "Our foundation has been laid here. We are going to do what we do best, like the other team does. There is always going to be that wrinkle here and there, but it does help you a little bit to understand what they do."
It's still hard, for some, that the Chargers are still playing into January. Not only did they need to win their final four games, but they needed the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins to stumble as well. Not to mention Kansas City Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missing a field goal in the waning seconds of what would be an overtime win for the Chargers in the regular-season finale last Sunday.
"Did we get a few breaks, yes," Rivers admitted. "But, I don't think for one bit we were given anything. Absolutely not. We fought like crazy to stay alive all year and we fought like crazy to earn these last four."
They have earned a rematch with the Bengals. Now in a different month, they seek a different result.
SERIES HISTORY: 2nd playoff meeting. The Bengals lead series, 1-0. Among the most famous playoff battles in NFL history is 1981 AFC Championship Game, between these teams which is known as the Freezer Bowl. With the thermometer reading minus-9 at kickoff, the Chargers lost, 27-7. It was their second straight AFC title game defeat, denying one of the greatest eras of Chargers history to not include a Super Bowl appearance. The forecast for Sunday? High 30s to mid-40s with a potential rain/snow mix.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Chargers will be playing their first game of the season on artificial turf. All 10 of their road games, including their preseason outings, were on grass. They play on grass as well at Qualcomm Stadium.
--Defensive end Corey Liuget isn't one to speculate that the Chargers, by the way they got into the playoffs, are a team of destiny.
"A couple people told me the football Gods are with us and all this other stuff, but I think it's just us working as a team, working together that has gotten us to this point and a simple belief," Liuget said.
--Outside linebacker Thomas Keiser was arrested Sunday night for assault and battery at a bar in downtown San Diego after the Chargers' victory over the Chiefs. He is expected to play on Sunday.
"We released a statement the other day as an organization and I'm going to leave it at that," coach Mike McCoy said.
--Free safety Eric Weddle is telling the younger players the postseason is a different deal.
"There's nothing like the playoffs," Weddle said. "The atmosphere, the speed of the game, how intense (it is), how vital each play is, the possessions shrink down."
--If the Chargers prevail this weekend, they would travel to Denver to face the Broncos in the playoff's second round. The Chargers spilt with the Broncos this season, with San Diego's win coming at Denver.
BY THE NUMBERS: -59 -- Wind-chill temperature the last time the Chargers and Bengals met in a playoff game. On Sunday, the temperatures will be much milder, with predictions for them to be in the high-30s to mid-40s.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a Cincinnati team that hasn't lost at their place this year and they came here and held us to 10 points." -- QB Philip Rivers on the challenge of facing the Bengals in Sunday's playoff game.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers are not expected to tinker with their rotation at outside linebacker after Sunday's arrest of Thomas Keiser. But it will be interesting to see if coach Mike McCoy does send a message by maybe giving Keiser fewer snaps. He might have the chance to do that more with Melvin Ingram back from his knee injury.
--QB Philip Rivers' 32 touchdown passes this season are the second-most in his 10-year career. His 378 completions were a Chargers single-season record.
--RB Ryan Mathews closed his regular season with a career-high 144 yards on 24 carries for a 6.0-yard average against Kansas City. He had three 100-yard games in the last four games. The only game he fell short of the century mark was when he had 99 yards against the Raiders in Week 16.
--SS Jahleel Addae, an undrafted rookie, continues to get more playing time with Marcus Gilchrist sliding down to cover the slot receiver on passing downs. Addae had two tackles and a passed defensed in the win over the Chiefs.
--WR Eddie Royal (toe) didn't practice but is expected to play on Sunday.
--RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) didn't practice but indications are he will start on Sunday.
--DT Sean Lissemore (shoulder) was a limited participant and will be able to start on Sunday.
--DE Kendall Reyes (ankle) was a full participant and is a go for Sunday.
The Chargers need to sell out against the runs on early downs, hoping they don't get crossed up on the Bengals throwing on those snaps. The last meeting on Dec. 1, the Bengals rushed for 164 yards, which the Chargers have to scheme for to avoid a repeat. But it has been proven if Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton can be forced into third-and-long situations, he is prone to turn the ball over. The Chargers' chances for being more fortified with outside linebacker Jarret Johnson in the lineup for this game, as well as defensive tackle Sean Lissemore supplanting Cam Thomas in the starting role.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--The Chargers coverages, with a spotlight on Shareece Wright vs. a versatile Bengals passing attack, which is led by A.J. Green. The Chargers didn't have many answers in slowing down Green in the team's meeting earlier this season. Green left Wright in his wake on a sideline route and then raced past many Chargers on a screen. Wright is the swiftest of the Chargers' defenders and should draw Green on many occasions on Sunday. Wright isn't showing up on the injury report but he's been nursing a sore foot which might limit his speed. Those Chargers defensive backs have to contend with wide receivers Marvin Jones and Andrew Hawkins as well.
--The Chargers' offense, led by quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Ryan Mathews vs. a Bengals defense which finished the year ranked No. 3 in the league. Rivers was selected for the Pro Bowl and a case could be made for Mathews after he had the best season of his career. Rivers and Mathews have fed off each other, as Rivers takes advantage of defenses loading up the box and when they don't, he checks off into running plays for Mathews. But the Bengals are a team-oriented unit that plays well as a squad rather than leaning on star players. That's especially true after injuries robbed the Bengals of their two of their standout players in defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall. The defense is led by Vontaze Burfict, a tackling machine with a dose of nasty and fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga. The secondary gets a boost if Terence Newman returns from an injury; it hopes for an up day from an up-and-down cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.