Recent trends from the NFL postseason suggest that the hottest team entering the year-ending tournament generally has the best chance of surviving and advancing as the competition gets consolidated. Such a sentiment certainly favors the San Diego Chargers who are on a four-game winning streak heading into their Wild Card matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals, and the fact that they’ve been playing playoff football for a month now already certainly doesn’t hurt.
At 5-7 following a home loss to these same Bengals they will face on Sunday, the Bolts needed to win out and get some serious help to even have a remote prayer of ending their three-year postseason drought. Lo and behold things broke the way San Diego needed as they took care of their own business and now fittingly face the team that last defeated them back on Dec. 1. Quarterback Philip Rivers addressed the team’s state of mind over the past month as he told USA TODAY:
“From a mindset standpoint, we’ve been in playoff mode for a month. We’ve known that if we were to have any chance to get in, we would have to win the rest of them.”
And now that things have played themselves out with the Bolts getting all of the pieces to fall into place, the team plans on taking advantage of its good fortune. Even though these same Bengals beat them just a little more than a month ago, San Diego had every opportunity to win that game and simply failed to execute in crunch time. That has been an issue with this team in the past, but they have been doing their best to dispel those preconceptions down the stretch this season.
Much of the credit for that has to go to the new coaching staff headed by Mike McCoy as he has molded the mentality of this young locker room into a hungry group with something to prove. Even some of the more tenured guys in the locker room like running back Ryan Mathews have been out to show that this team isn’t the same Bolts from the days of Norv Turner. Mathews’ recent success down the stretch with four straight workhorse outings coming into the postseason illustrates perfectly just how different this team is from the previous models.
Turner’s squads would become obsessed with the pass and predictable in the play-calling whereas these new Bolts stick to the run and understand that establishing a rhythm is paramount. The last time they veered from that path – fittingly enough – was against these very Bengals when Mathews had just 14 carries for 61 yards despite averaging 4.4 per tote. Since then the Chargers have committed to the ground game which has helped out their aerial attack immensely.
There may be several pundits discounting the Chargers’ chances now that they’ve made it to the dance thanks to a botched no-call by the officials against the Kansas City Chiefs, but that type of naysaying is very familiar to the man under center in San Diego. At 32 years of age and on the heels of three very unflattering seasons, Rivers is more than ready to quiet the doubters in the postseason. Perhaps he summed up the outlook of his entire team best when he said:
“I think the underdog and the favorite talk is more for the outside. I know everyone in our locker room thinks we’re going to win. I know everyone in their locker room thinks they’re going to win. They beat us five weeks ago. We’ve seen in the postseason, anyone can win.”