San Diego Chargers, No Longer in Giving Mood, Seek Revenge on Third Staight Foe

Eric BennettContributor IJanuary 5, 2009

Can you imagine what the playoffs would have been like if Dwayne Bowe of the Kansas City Chiefs would've secured an onside kick by the San Diego Chargers in week 15?

If the ball doesn't bounce off Bowe's chest with under two minutes to go, the Chargers' season is over.

Leading up to wild card weekend, San Diego was the king of dramatic finishes and games that came down to inches.

The story all year for San Diego was that they were on the losing end of the close calls. Finally, at the last possible moment, in week 15 the script was flipped for the Chargers, and the success on close finishes continued during last weekend's wild card game against the Colts.

The Colts were one of four teams to beat the Chargers during the game's final 24 seconds, the others being the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Everyone has noticed the Chargers have been a different team since their loss to the Atlanta Falcons in week 13, but their ability to cash in on games decided by coin flips and inches has put them in the position to move on to the Steelers.

In previous playoff games the Chargers had been deflated by a boneheaded play or two. For example, when the Chargers played the New England Patriots in the divisional round two years ago, every analyst and fan was able to point to three plays that suggested the Chargers beat themselves.

Late in that game against the Patriots, San Diego played the role of Santa Claus, awarding the Patriots three extra chances to win. The three plays in short, occurring late in the game, were a muffed punt return, a fumble on an interception return, and a pass interference call to extend the Patriots' scoring drive.

Without one of the those things happening, the Chargers' postseason could've been a different story, and who knows—Marty Schottenheimer could still be coaching the Chargers today.

Now back to last weekend's game with the Colts. It looked as if history was going to repeat itself. Darren Sproles fumbled at the Colts' one-yard line, Phillip Rivers threw a terrible pass resulting in an interception deep in Colts territory, and Antonio Cromartie simply let Reggie Wayne run by him, giving the Colts their easiest score of the season.

If one of those plays goes different, if Sproles holds on to the ball, the game could've been much different. Instead we had a much more dramatic, exciting football game.

Peyton Manning was facing a third down with two yards to go, the Chargers out of timeouts, and with one play to go before the two-minute warning. The Colts could not the run the ball all day, and everybody in the world knew the play call was going to be, had to be, a quick slant to the sure-handed Wayne.

If San Diego's cornerback didn't play Wayne the exact way he did, Manning would have hit Wayne for the game-seeling first down. But Manning didn't feel the pressure and pump faked to a well-defended slant pass and ultimately got sacked, the game went to overtime, and Sproles definitely made up for his fumble at the one-yard line.

The Chargers not only redeemed themselves for their earlier loss to the Colts, but also continued to cash in on a game decided by a few plays, a mere few inches.

It wasn't exactly luck. The defense of the Chargers no doubt deserves the credit, playing extremely well under extreme pressure in an extremely close game.

The Chargers were finally able to overcome the worst of mistakes and have confidence heading into another great matchup against the best defense in the country.

Oh yeah, and the Chargers came out on top without a single reception from their No. 1 receiver, Vincent Jackson, who has been key to Chargers' recent success.

The Steelers quarterback was recently concussed, and their offensive line has caused problems for them all season. The Chargers defense will have to raise their intensity even further if they hope to have success in what should be another nail-biter.

No LT? No problem. It's not like he was highly effective much of the season or against the Steelers anyway. Yes, Sproles is small and could have trouble against an extremely quick, bruising defense, and he will probably be sore from his incredible performance last weekend, but he and the Chargers are clearly playing tougher than ever.

Sure, every team is on the same mission right now, but the Chargers seem to be playing with much more heart, intensity, passion, and desire than they were their last time in Pittsburgh.

Rivers will play better then he did the last time he faced the No. 1 rated defense and will should be able to get Jackson involved, and Sproles should still be effective, but most likely not nearly as effective as against the Colts.

Antonio Cromartie has to finally show up to play, much like his 2007 campaign, for the Chargers to have a chance.

San Diego's defense will have to put immense pressure on Big Ben and try to induce more headaches for him. They must continue to stop the run and limit the big play ability of Santonio Holmes.

Special teams for the Chargers will be important again versus the Steelers, but Rivers' clutch play will be the key to this game, no matter how cold it is.

San Diego might not be accustomed to freezing temperatures, but they are used to playing in the intensity of win or go home games now, which has been five straight weeks for them.

If Big Ben gets his clock rung this weekend, the Chargers will continue to fight for their revenge against the entire NFL (refs, AFC teams, NFC teams).