Reflecting on the 10 Defining Moments of San Diego Chargers' 2013 Regular Season

Marcelo Villa@@_marcelovillaFeatured Columnist IIIDecember 31, 2013

Reflecting on the 10 Defining Moments of San Diego Chargers' 2013 Regular Season

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    Playoff bound for the first time in three years, the San Diego Chargers have something to celebrate, but the path to a 9-7 finish was anything but typical.

    Through various ups and downs, the Chargers clawed their way through 16 games and left fans with definitive moments.

    A new start under a new regime was a defining moment in itself for San Diego, but the result was a positive one.

    As fans were left to wonder how their team would perform under new guidance, the regular season brought moments that struck a chord with them from week to week.

    Here are 10 of San Diego's defining moments from the 2013 season.

Crezdon Butler's Quick Turnaround

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    Just five days after he was signed to the Chargers, Crezdon Butler was forced to play in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans and found himself on the losing end of the game-winning touchdown pass to Justin Hunter.

    The following week against the Dallas Cowboys, Butler wound up making the game-saving tackle that jarred the ball loose from Terrance Williams to secure the win for San Diego.

    In a span of two weeks, Butler was blamed for a loss and credited with a win by fans.

Nick Novak's Game-Winner in Philly

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    The Chargers put a lot of faith in Nick Novak when they signed him to four-year, $6.6 million deal in the offseason.

    That money proved to be well spent when Novak nailed a game-winning, 46-yard field goal against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2.

    Novak was a perfect 4-of-4 against the Eagles, hitting from 49, 44, 33 and 46 yards. The sixth-year pro, who bounced around the NFL, Europe and United Football League, finished fourth in field goals made this season (34) and had just three misses.

Keenan Allen's Rise to Fame

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    You never know what you're going to get out of a third-round draft pick, especially one that suffered a major knee injury in college, but Keenan Allen quickly proved he was first-round material after delivering one of the greatest rookie seasons in franchise history.

    Allen set a team record for receiving yards by a rookie with 1,046 and became the first rookie receiver since A.J. Green in 2011 to pass 1,000 yards.

    This could easily result in a possible Offensive Rookie of the Year award for Allen, taking into consideration just how valuable he was to the Chargers during the regular season.

    Allen had five games with more than 100 yards receiving and came up with five touchdowns during San Diego's four-game winning streak to close out the season.

    To pick just one moment from his rookie year wouldn't give him enough credit, but who could forget his touchdown hurdle on Thursday Night Football against the Denver Broncos?

Ryan Mathews Breaks Free

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    A lot was expected from Ryan Mathews in being a first-round pick and the replacement of future Hall of Famer LaDanian Tomlinson.

    The dish on Mathews before the draft was that he was too injury-prone, but the talent was there. For the first few seasons, it appeared as if the scouts were right about his health.

    Mathews battled injuries early in his career, and while he did have one season with more than 1,000 yards rushing, it seemed like finishing all 16 games in a season was more of a challenge than hitting good numbers.

    After suffering two broken clavicles last season, the heat was on for Mathews to break out of his shell and start making strides—and that's exactly what he did.

    Not only did the fourth-year back play in all 16 games this season, but he finished with career highs in attempts (285), yards (1,255) and a new career-long of 51 yards against the Miami Dolphins. On top of that, Mathews had six games with over 100 yards rushing and played a big role in helping the Chargers reach the playoffs during the the final four games of the season.

    Before this season, there was plenty of doubt that Mathews could be a workhorse back, but he played through injuries and gutted it out in a definitive moment for his career and the team.

The Rivers-to-Gates Connection

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    Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have been a staple of Chargers football for over a decade, and playing that long together is bound to break some records and produce Hall of Fame careers in the making.

    Rivers and Gates hooked up for just four touchdowns in 2013, but that was all they needed to solidify themselves as one of the greatest quarterback-tight end tandems in NFL history.

    In the second quarter of Sunday's win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Rivers connected with Gates for career touchdown No. 60 between the two—the most ever by a quarterback-tight end duo.

    Rivers and Gates have been through the ups and downs of the franchise in recent memory, but a lot of credit should be directed their way for changing the face of the Chargers franchise.

    As players and coaches came and went, the success between Rivers and Gates remained the same. The bond shared between the two will be something Chargers fans remember for quite some time.

Melvin Ingram Returns from Major Injury

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Melvin Ingram's rookie season was promising, and the hope was he'd be even better in his second year.

    But that plan was quickly ruined with news that the former first-rounder had torn his ACL during Organized Team Activities (OTAs). On a non-contact drill, Ingram had planted awkwardly, and his season was thought to be done.

    Ingram's tireless work ethic during rehab quickly paid off as he was able to play his first game in Week 14 against the New York Giants and make his first start two weeks later against the Oakland Raiders.

    For an injury that would normally rule out an entire season for most players, Ingram managed to put the time in to speed up his recovery and not just return to the playing field but be effective.

    In four games, Ingram had four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

The Colts Fall at the Q

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    At 4-1, the Indianapolis Colts were considered among the cream of the crop in the AFC, and the Chargers played the role of underdogs even at home.

    Sporting their coveted powder blues on Monday Night Football, the Chargers went out and held the Colts to three field goals in a much needed victory.

    Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis offense looked out of sync, totaling just 267 yards with a turnover.

    San Diego's defense held the Colts to 2-of-10 on third down and rattled Luck with pressure all night. It was a big win at the time to outlast a team like the Colts that thrived on offense, but an even bigger win for fans who realized this team wasn't in rebuilding mode.

Remember the Name: Seyi Ajirotutu

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    Seyi Ajirotutu is no stranger to Chargers fans.

    While the spelling of his name may be difficult to remember, most fans might recognize the fact that he's played for San Diego at some point in three of his four years in the NFL.

    With Danario Alexander undergoing a season-ending knee surgery, San Diego was forced to enlist the services of an old friend in Ajirotutu. But who would have believed that one of his three catches on the season would be the game-winner in a pivotal game against the Chiefs in Week 12?

    Trailing by four with 31 seconds left in the game, Philip Rivers delivered a 26-yard strike to a sliding Ajirotutu in the end zone to silence chilly Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs suffered their first home loss of the season and possibly their confidence as they proceeded to lose the next two games.

    San Diego was involved in plenty of down-to-the-wire finishes this season, but the game-winning catch by the most unlikely of heroes is a classic.

The Mile High Upset

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    Peyton Manning and the Broncos shattered records and expectations in 2013, so being one of the three teams to hand them a loss is truly saying something.

    Being the first and only team to beat them on their home field this season is all that much sweeter.

    On the prime-time stage of Thursday Night Football, the Chargers utilized a team effort to bring down the Broncos and get the best of Manning.

    Philip Rivers threw two touchdown passes to Keenan Allen, and Ryan Mathews helped drain the clock on his way to 127 yards rushing to propel San Diego offensively.

    Defensively, the Chargers held Denver to just 18 yards rushing and forced a rare interception of Manning late in the game.

    The win kept San Diego's playoff hopes alive, but more importantly gave the team confidence heading down the stretch. Wins over arguably the best team in the conference don't come often.

Overtime Thriller Makes Playoff Dreams Come True

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    The game itself was enough to make any fan suffer multiple heart attacks before ending up on the living room floor in utter disbelief, but the result at the end was, by far, the most definitive moment of the season for San Diego.

    Looking back in the offseason, the terms "rebuilding" and "fixing" were commonly used to describe the Chargers in 2013. A new head coach, a new GM, a turnover-prone quarterback—how could this team dare to finish above .500? 

    That doesn't even mention the amount of help the Chargers needed just to make the playoffs.

    Baltimore and Miami had to lose back-to-back games to set up the win-and-in scenario against the Chiefs, but even that didn't come easy.

    With Kansas City playing backups, the Chargers fought for four quarters to stay alive and it all came down to a potential game-winning field goal for Ryan Succop. But, of course, San Diego used one of its nine lives to stay in the game as Succop missed wide right, and overtime followed.

    Add in a controversial fake punt, the go-ahead field goal by Nick Novak and a final defensive stand and you have one of the wildest regular-season finales this season. It wasn't pretty, but the Chargers put an end to a three-year playoff drought and find themselves in new waters with head coach Mike McCoy.