With a postseason run in full effect, the San Diego Chargers are rolling into the divisional round with support from a rejuvenated defense.
The Chargers roughed up Andy Dalton in Sunday's 27-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, holding the opposition scoreless in the second half while forcing four turnovers. The Bengals averaged 26.9 points during the regular season, but a series of defensive stands from the Chargers held Cincinnati to its second-lowest total of the year.
Keep in mind, this was the same Chargers defense that surrendered 332 yards of total offense and 24 points to a group of Kansas City's backups in Week 17.
Still, the recent stretch of five straight wins by San Diego has seen a massive improvement on defense. The most noticeable example of these changes came in the Week 15 upset of the Denver Broncos.
In handing the Broncos their first home loss of the season, the Chargers defense held Peyton Manning to 289 yards passing with two touchdowns—below-average numbers for a guy who dropped 400 yards and four scores multiple times this year. The defensive pressure also forced a rare interception of Manning that helped lift San Diego to the win.
To say that one player has been responsible for the turnaround isn't at all accurate. It's truly been a team effort to fix some of the holes that so desperately needed to be filled when San Diego was hemorrhaging 400 yards a game early in the season.
Let's take a look at some of the key players involved.
The bearded one earned a second Pro Bowl nod and has played like it in the last five games for San Diego. Whether it's knocking down passes, wrapping up ball-carriers or converting fake punts, Weddle has had a hand in many game-changing moments.
The linebacker struggled with health issues during the regular season, but his forced fumble of Giovani Bernard on Sunday was well worth him missing some time.
The secondary was frequently torched by opposing quarterbacks earlier in the season, but Wright has found a way to break up passes on more than one occasion in the past couple games, including an interception of Dalton on Sunday.
He figured to have no chance of playing this season, but Ingram has defied the odds and made his way back to the field in impressive fashion. He had an interception of Dalton on Sunday.
The list of players who have contributed goes on and on, but the way this defense has been stepping up in pivotal moments is what makes it a big part of San Diego's recent success. With next Sunday's third meeting against Denver this year, look for the defense to be the deciding factor in what transpires for the Chargers.