Leading 34-24 late in the fourth quarter, the San Diego Chargers clinched win No. 7 as rookie CB Antione Cason returned a Jeff Garcia interception 59 yards to go ahead 41-24 and decide the game for good.
However, a jubilant Chargers team solemnly boarded their plane ride home, knowing they would have to count on the Buffalo Bills to pull an upset over the Denver Broncos to keep their playoff hopes alive.
An anxious Chargers team waited out a long plane ride, having no possible way of seeing the Bills-Broncos score, only picking the game up on radio and an ESPNews tracker (ESPNews is not allowed to televise in-game action). Then, over the Gulf of Mexico, the radio went out, and all heads turned to the televisions.
With one blip on the television screen, an ear-splitting roar, audible from midair to downtown San Diego, was let out from the plane as the final score was announced: Bills 30, Broncos 23. Players screamed, 6'7" 330lbs L.T. Marcus McNeil stood up in his chair and C Nick Hardwick ripped off his shirt. The dream was still alive.
Now, with one game to go, the San Diego Chargers have their chance. A roller-coaster regular season will conclude Sunday night, as the 7-8 Chargers take on the 8-7 Denver Broncos for a winner-take-all shot at the division crown and a home game in the playoffs.
Three weeks ago, the San Diego Chargers were 4-8 and ready to run Head Coach Norv Turner out of town. Rumors that he had lost the team, and media, both local and national, were calling it a season and counting down the days until he would be fired.
Now, the Cinderella San Diego Chargers enter the playoffs a week early, courtesy of a Christmas gift of the Buffalo Bills, and a miracle comeback win vs. the Chiefs a week prior. Indeed, it hasn't struck midnight after all.