The San Diego Chargers' 10 Best Ever Playoff Performances
As Charger fans, we have become accustomed to our beloved Bolts playing in the post-season on a regular basis. However this year, the Chargers missed the playoffs for the first time in five years and have left us a little wanting.
But do not fret.
For if you are suffering from San Diego Chargers playoff withdrawals, I have just the fix to get you through to next season.
What follows is a list of the top-ten playoff performances put in by the Chargers listed in reverse order of importance of the game. Coincidentally, the Chargers have only won 10 playoff games ever in their history, so this list is as comprehensive as it can be.
For some games there are only short highlights, for others there are medium length reviews and for some there are complete games.
So grab a cup of coffee and sit back and take a stroll down memory lane while watching some of the greatest games in Charger’s history. If you don’t have the time to watch them all, just bookmark this page and come back to watch the rest whenever you want.
No. 10) The 2007 AFC Wild Card Game: Chargers Over The Titans 17-6
LT jumps the pile to ice the game for the Bolts.
Harry How/Getty Images
After winning their second straight AFC west division title with an 11-5 record, the Chargers hosted the Tennessee Titans in the 2007 AFC Wild Card game.
The Chargers got off to a slow start and trailed the Titans 6-0 at half time on two Rob Bironas field goals. The second coming on the last play of the first half.
But that would be all the points that Tennessee would score in this game. San Diego’s defense played brilliantly, harassing Titan's quarterback Vince Young all day long.
San Diego got their first points with 9:47 remaining in the third quarter when Nate Kaeding hit a 20-yard field goal. The Chargers then took the lead for good when Philip Rivers hit Vincent Jackson for a 25-yard touchdown pass and catch late in the third quarter.
Ladainian Tomlinson had an off day, rushing for only 42 yards on 21 carries, but his one-yard touchdown leap over the pile with under nine minutes to go put San Diego ahead 17-6.
When Chargers cornerback Drayton Florence picked off Young’s pass with under four minutes to go, San Diego sealed their first playoff victory in 13 years.
Notes: To see the highlights of this game from NFL.com, click here.
One thing to note about this game that pertains to today is how well Vincent Jackson played in key situations. It would be a shame if the Chargers can't sign him as he really adds a lot to the offense.
No. 9) The 2008 AFC Wild Card Game: Chargers Over The Colts 23-17 in OT
Darren Sproles scores in overtime.
Harry How/Getty Images
In 2008, The Chargers won their last four games of the year to win the AFC west for the third straight season with an 8-8 record, making them the first team ever to make the playoff after starting out 4-8. For their effort, San Diego was rewarded by hosting a playoff game against the hottest team in the league.
The Indianapolis Colts had won their last nine regular season games and quarterback Peyton Manning had received his third NFL MVP award just one day earlier.
The Colts opened the scoring late in the first quarter when Joseph Addai scored on a one-yard run. The Chargers tied the game at sevens on Ladainian Tomlinson’s three-yard run early in the second quarter.
That play would turn out to be LT’s last of the game. But that was no problem, as Darren Sproles would pick up the slack and then some.
After Adam Vinatieri put the Colts ahead with a 43-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, Sproles found the end zone for Chargers with a nine-yard run just before halftime that put the Bolts ahead 14-10.
Midway through the third quarter, Manning showed why he was the league’s MVP when he hit Reggie Wayne for a 62-yard bomb to give the Colts the lead again at 17-14.
The Charges would suffer two consecutive turnovers in the end zone on their next two possessions. The first came when Darren Sproles fumbled at the two-yard line and Raheem Brock recovered for the Colts. The second came when Philip Rivers over threw Chris Chambers and was intercepted by Antoine Bethea.
The Colts however, could not move the ball and the Charges got the ball back with less than three minutes to go in the game. San Diego then drove to the Colts eight-yard line and Nate Kaeding hit the game tying field goal with 31 seconds left that sent the game into overtime.
The Chargers would win the toss in overtime, as Sproles got some revenge for his earlier fumble, scampering 22 yards for the game-winning touchdown as the Chargers beat the Colts in the playoffs for the second straight season 23-17.
Sproles would end the day with 328 total yards, 105 of them on 23 carries. He caught five passes for 45 yards and had another 178 yards on seven kickoff and punt returns. But the player of the day had to be San Diego punter Mike Scifers who kept Indianapolis pinned deep in their own end all day long. All six of his punts were downed inside the Colts 10-yard line and averaged 53 yards each.
Colts running back Dominic Rhodes said of Scifers, “I think that their punter is the MVP of the game. He did a real good job of putting us deep in our territory, and their defense did a good job of keeping us there."
Unfortunately, a week later the Chargers run would come to an end as they were beaten by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers 35-24 in the Divisional Playoff Round.
Note: To see a recap of this game from NFL.com, click here.
No. 8) The 1992 AFC Wild Card Game: Chargers Over The Chiefs 17-0
In 1992, after losing their first four games, the Chargers would go 11-1 in their last 12 games to win the AFC West with an 11-5 record.It was the first time ever that a team that started 0-4 made the playoffs.
With GM Bobby Beathard and head coach Bobby Ross, the Chargers made the playoff for the first time in 10 years and hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card game. The Chargers defense dominated all day and shut out the Chiefs 17-0.
The game remained scoreless until midway through the third quarter when Charger's running back Marion Butts scored on a 54-yard rushing touchdown. Then, San Diego defensive lineman Leslie O'Neal intercepted a pass on Kansas City's next drive to set up kicker John Carney's 34-yard field goal. In the final period, Charger's linebacker Steve Hendrickson, who lined up as a running back, scored on a five-yard touchdown run.
Unfortunately, a week later the Chargers were shut out themselves 34-0 in the AFC divisional game at the hands of the Dolphins in Miami.
No. 7) 1980 AFC Divisional Game: Chargers Over The Bills 20-14
Buffalo jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead with running back Roosevelt Leaks' one-yard touchdown run and quarterback Joe Ferguson's nine-yard pass to Frank Lewis.
However, San Diego took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 70 yards to score on quarterback Dan Fouts' nine-yard touchdown completion to Charlie Joiner. Then early in the fourth quarter, the Chargers added a field goal to cut the Bills' lead, 14-13.
San Diego took over at their own 31-yard line with less than 4 minutes remaining, but Buffalo cornerback Charles Romes almost intercepted Fouts on the play before the winning touchdown. With 2:08 left in the game, Fouts threw a 50-yard winning touchdown pass to receiver Ron Smith to send the Bills packing.
It was the Chargers first playoff win in 17 years. However, the excitement was short lived as the Chargers were beaten in the AFC championship game one week later by their old nemesis the Oakland Raiders 34-27.
In the 1980 season, Fouts passed for 4,715 yards and threw 30 touchdowns, while John Jefferson, Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow each eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in reception yardage.
Note: The above link is the first half of the game. To watch the second half highlights, click here.
No. 6) 1982 AFC Divisional Game: Chargers Over The Steelers 31-28
In 1982, Dan Fouts won Offensive Player of the Year honors by passing for 2,883 yards in just nine games as Wes Chandler collected 1,032 yards in receptions, the only receiver in the NFL to eclipse 1000 yards in the strike shortened season.
Qualifying fifth in the so called “Super Bowl Tournament” the Chargers, led by a balanced attack of Dan Fouts who passed for 333 yards and Chuck Muncie who rushed for 125 yards, beat the Steelers 31-28 in Pittsburgh.
The game started with Charger's wide receiver James Brooks fumbling the opening kickoff and the Steelers recovering the football in the end zone for a touchdown. Brooks would fumble the ensuing kickoff as well, but recover it himself on the Charger one-yard line.
From there, Dan Fouts led the Chargers down to the Pittsburgh six-yard line where the drive stalled and the team settled for a field goal.
Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw would lead the Steelers to a second touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak that would make the score 14-3 in favor of the Steelers.
San Diego then drove 80 yards and scored when two-time fumbler Brooks, scampered 18 yards into the end zone.
Then the Steelers drove to the Chargers 30 yard line before Bradshaw threw his first of two interceptions on the day. Bruce Laird picked off the errant pass on the Charger goal line and returned it 36 yards.
The Chargers take the lead just before half time when Fouts throws a 10-yard pass to backup tight end Eric Sievers to give the Chargers their first lead of the game at 17-14.
Pittsburgh retakes the lead on their first drive of the second half when Bradshaw lofts a pass to a wide open Bennie Cunningham from the 1-yard line.
The Chargers then drive to the Steeler's 14-yard line but turn the ball over when full back John Cappelletti fails to reach the first down marker on a fourth and short play.
The Steelers have their own fourth and inches play, but unlike the Chargers, they are successful and the third quarter ends with the Steelers in the lead 21-17.
Through three quarters, Bradshaw completed 24 of 26 passes including 14 in a row. Pittsburgh would extend their lead to 28-17 when Bradshaw passed 10 yards to John Stallworth for his second passing touchdown of the game.
San Diego would punt on their next possession and give the Steelers the ball on their own 18-yard line with just 12 minutes remaining in the game. But Bradshaw’s third and eight pass to Lynn Swan is intercepted by Jeff Allen at the Steelers 38 and returned to the 29. Two plays later Fouts is intercepted by Mel Blount in the end zone, but Jack Ham was called for holding on the play which gave the Chargers a new life and a first down at the Steelers 12-yard line.
But the Chargers can’t move the ball and are forced to go for it on fourth down again. This time Fouts finds tight end Kellen Winslow for a 10-yard touchdown pass that makes the score 28-24 with 8:42 remaining in the game.
Pittsburgh attempted to control the game and the clock by running Franco Harris left, right and center. But the drive stalled at the Pittsburgh 44-yard line and the Steelers are forced to punt for the first time in the game.
With 4:06 remaining the Chargers get the ball on their own 36, trailing by four points. They take the lead for good with exactly one minute to play when Fouts and Winslow hook up for their second touchdown pass and catch of the quarter on a tight end throw-back screen for 12 yards.
The Steelers needed to move fast, but had already burned two of their timeouts. It would cost them as the game ended on a 50-yard hail marry that was batted down near the goal line.
A week later the Chargers would be stung by the Dolphins 34-13 in Miami as the Dolphins "Killer Bee" defense intercepted Dan Fouts five times.
Note: The above link is only the first in a 13 part series of YouTube videos that shows the entire game. To view them all sequentially, click here.
No. 5) 1994 AFC Divisional Game: Chargers Over The Dolphins 22-21
In 1994, the Chargers finished the season with an 11-5 record and earn a first round bye. In the divisional playoffs against the Miami Dolphins at Jack Murphy Stadium, the Chargers fell behind early and trailed 21-6 at halftime.
Miami quarterback Dan Marino threw three touchdowns in the first half: two to tight end Keith Jackson for eight and nine yards, and a 16-yarder to wide receiver Mike Williams. San Diego could only counter with two field goals by place kicker John Carney.
In the second half, it was all San Diego however, as the Charger defense limited the Dolphins to only 16 offensive plays. The Chargers would grind out a comeback against a tiring Dolphins defense by running the ball.
In the third quarter, Charger's defensive lineman Reuben Davis tackled Dolphin's running back Bernie Parmalee in the end zone for a safety. San Diego then took the ensuing free kick and marched 54 yards to score on running back Natrone Means' 24-yard touchdown.
Holding the ball most of the second half the Chargers took a 22-21 with 35 seconds left when quarterback Stan Humphries connected with wide receiver Mark Seay on an eight-yard touchdown pass.
Miami kicker Pete Stoyanovich then attempted a 48-yard game-winning field goal on the final play of the game, but his kick was wide right.
No. 4) 1981 AFC Divisional Game: Chargers Over The Dolphins 41-38 in OT
This game was so good it became know in football lore as "The Epic in Miami." This may be the best football game that the Chargers have ever played. It is my personal favorite and established Kellen Winslow as my most favorite athlete of all-time in any sport.
Prior to the start of the 1981 season, San Diego Stadium was renamed Jack Murphy Stadium in honor of the late sports editor of The San Diego Union, who was instrumental in landing the Chargers in San Diego.
Air Coryell continued to fly despite the loss of superstar wide receiver John Jefferson as Wes Chandler slipped right in and joined Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow with 1,000 yards in receptions.
Dan Fouts topped himself again by passing for 4,802 yards and throwing 33 touchdowns.
Also joining in the fun was Running Back Chuck Muncie who scored 19 touchdowns while rushing for 1,144 yards.
The Chargers won the AFC West for the third year in a row with a 10-6 record, which was not good enough to get a first round bye.
In the divisional playoffs in Miami the Chargers grabbed a 24-0 lead early in the first quarter.
However, after Don Strock replaced starting quarterback David Woodley, the Dolphins scored 17 unanswered points in the second period culminating with the famous hook and lateral call on the final play of the first half.
In the third quarter, Miami tied the game, 24-24, with Strock's 15-yard touchdown completion to tight end Joe Rose.
Each team then traded two more touchdowns, with San Diego quarterback Dan Fouts' nine-yard tying score to James Brooks coming with about a minute left in regulation.
Dolphins kicker Uwe von Schamann had a chance to win the game for Miami on the last play of regulation, but his field goal attempt was blocked by Charger's tight end Kellen Winslow.
In overtime, the Chargers took the opening kickoff and advanced to the Miami eight-yard line, but Rolf Benirschke hooked a 27-yard field goal attempt.
Then after both teams exchanged punts twice, the Dolphins reached the San Diego 17-yard line, only to see von Schamann's 34-yard attempt get blocked by defensive lineman Leroy Jones.
The Chargers then drove to the Miami 10-yard line, where Benirschke was called upon to kick the winning field goal, which gave the Chargers a 41-38 win in one of the greatest playoff games ever played.
This game set playoff records for the most points scored in a playoff game (79), the most total yards by both teams (1,036), and most passing yards by both teams (809).
Strock turned in the best game of his life, completing 29 of 43 passes for 403 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Fouts put on one of the best performances of his hall of fame career, completing 33 of 53 passes for 433 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The image of an exhausted Winslow, who finished the game with 13 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown, being helped off the field by two of his teammates has been constantly replayed ever since.
However, a week later the Chargers would stumble playing in a -59 degree wind chill in Cincinnati, losing the AFC championship game for the second straight year by a score of 27-7.
Note: If there is one game in this list that you must see, it is this one. The level of drama in this game has never been matched in any other sporting event I have ever been witness to. The only reason this game is not number one is that it was only a divisional game and not a conference championship game.
No. 3) 2007 AFC Divisional Game: Chargers Over The Colts 28-24
Billy Volek will come on to win for the Chargers.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
This game is ranked number three on the list because it marks only the second time in Charger's history that the Bolts won two post-season games in a row. It also allowed the Chargers to advance to the AFC conference championship game for the fourth time in their history. It is also worth noting that this game was a fourth quarter come from behind win orchestrated by a backup quarterback and a backup running back against the defending Super Bowl champions.
In 2007, after a 5-5 start, the Chargers won their last six games to finish 11-5 and take the AFC west title for the second straight year. After the Chargers defeated the Titans in the wild card game, they headed to Indianapolis to face the defending super bowl champion Colts in the divisional game.
Indianapolis struck first on their opening drive when Peyton Manning hit Dallas Clark for a 25-yard touchdown pass. Kelvin Hayden then picked off Philip Rivers on the Chargers opening drive giving the ball right back to Manning and the Colts, but Marvin Harrison fumbled the ball right back to the Chargers.
With the Chargers driving near the Colts goal line in the second quarter, San Diego’s chances took a serious blow when Ladainian Tomlinson went down with a knee injury. On the very next play, Rivers hit Vincent Jackson for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
After the Colts got a field goal, The Chargers had to punt the ball right back to the Colts. With time running out in the first half, Manning was picked off by Antonio Cromartie at the Charger 10. Cromartie ran it all the way back for the touchdown, except a holding penalty on the play negated the score.
At the half, the Colts led the Chargers 10-7.
On the Chargers first possesion of the second half, Rivers found Chris Chambers for a 30 yard score to give the Chargers their first lead of the game at 14-10.
On the Colts next possesion, Erik Weddle intercepted Manning at the Charger three-yard line, averting yet another lead change. Later, Manning hit Reggie Wayne for a 10-yard score that does give the Colts the Lead back at 17-14.
The Chargers come right back however, as Darren Sproles runs 56 yards to the end zone on a screen pass from Rivers to give the Chargers the lead back at 21-17 at the end of three quarters.
But on that play Rivers would get hurt and miss the rest of the game.
Things didn't look good for the Chargers faithful when the Colts retook the lead with 10 minutes to go in the game on a 55 yard pass from Manning to Anthony Gonzalez.
However, led by backup quarterback Billy Volek and backup running back Michael Turner, the Chargers drove 78 yards in eight plays. When Volek scored on a one-yard sneak, the Chargers took the lead for good 28-24, as the defense made that score hold up.
In the AFC championship game, the Chargers faced the undefeated New England Patriots with a banged up Tomlinson and Rivers. While the knee kept LT on the sideline, Rivers some how gutted it out as the Chargers gave the Patriots all they could handle. In the end, however, the Chargers would come up on the short end of a 21-12 score.
Note: To see highlights of this game from NFL.com, click here.
No. 2) 1963 AFL Championship Game: Chargers Over The Patriots 51-10
This game is ranked number 2 on the list for the sole reason that it is the Chargers only championship they have ever won, even if it was in the old AFL.
In front of a crowd of 30,127, the San Diego Chargers hosted the Boston Patriots at Balboa Stadium in San Diego for the 1963 AFL Championship Game.
On the game’s second play from scrimmage, Charger RB Keith Lincoln ran up the middle for 56 yards, setting up a two-yard sneak by quarterback Tobin Rote for the game’s first touchdown. On the Chargers next possession, Lincoln received the ball on a pitchout and dashed another 67 yards for the Charger's second touchdown of the game.
Following a seven-yard touchdown run by the Patriot’s Larry Garron, who would later suffer a concussion, the rout of the Patriots continued when Paul Lowe broke loose for a 58-yard touchdown run.
At the end of the first quarter, the score was 21-7 San Diego.
At halftime, it was 31-10, with a final score of 51-10.
The 610 yards in total offense the Patriots allowed in that game still stands today as an all-time franchise record in futility.
Lincoln alone accounted for 349 total yards. He carried 13 times for 206 yards and one touchdown, caught seven passes out of the backfield for 123 yards and another touchdown, and even completed a pass for 20 more yards.
“It seemed all I did that day was punt,” said Boston punter Tom Yewcic, who also came on to relieve Patriot’s quarterback Babe Parilli, “I’d punt, they’d go the length of the field, we’d get the ball back and go three downs and out, and we’d do it all over again.” Seven times that day, Yewcic punted the ball, and seven times the Chargers put the ball in the end zone.
The Chargers championship win is noted for being the only and most recent major sports championship won for the city of San Diego. No other city with at least two professional sports teams has a championship drought as long (47 years). This is also the only time that the Chargers have beaten the Patriots in a postseason game.
No. 1) 1994 AFC Championship Game: Chargers Over The Steelers 17-13
This is the pinnacle of Charger playoff history as this is the only time that the Chargers won the AFC conference championship game that led them to their only super bowl appearance.
Although Pittsburgh held advantages in total plays (80–47), total offensive yards (415–226), and time of possession (37:13–22:47), it was San Diego who made the big plays.
The Steelers scored first on quarterback Neil O'Donnell's 16-yard touchdown pass to fullback John Williams. Then after the two teams exchanged field goals in the second quarter, Pittsburgh kicker Gary Anderson made a 23-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 13-3 advantage.
Midway through the third quarter, Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries faked a handoff that fooled the Steelers defensive backs long enough to find tight end Alfred Pupunu wide open to complete a 43-yard touchdown.
With 5:13 left in the game, Humphries threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tony Martin, who out-jumped defensive back Tim McKyer to make the catch and give the Chargers a 17–13 lead.
Pittsburgh then marched from their own 17-yard line to the San Diego three to put themselves in position for a potential winning touchdown. However on fourth down, Chargers linebacker Dennis Gibson sealed the victory by tipping away O'Donnell's pass intended for running back Barry Foster.
The Chargers had scored 14 unanswered points in the second half to upset the heavily favored Steelers and send the team to their first and only Super Bowl.
When the Chargers got back to San Diego 70,000 fans greeted them at Jack Murphy Stadium.
The Chargers had beaten the Steelers on the last regular season game as well 37-34 which had given the Bolts the first round bye and home field advantage in the divisional game. The Steelers lost for the first time during the 1994 season in which they held a lead at halftime.
If you are old enough to have watched this game, every Charger fan who did can remember where they were when they saw Gibson knock down O'Donnell's fourth down pass and the rush of knowing that, finally, "We Are Going To The Super Bowl!"