Do you believe in ... well, maybe not miracles, but something otherwordly certainly seemed to be cooking in the Chargers' favor over the season's final two weeks. They needed losses by Miami and Baltimore in both Weeks 16 and 17 to have a playoff shot Sunday, then needed a missed 41-yard field goal from Kansas City's Ryan Succop to avoid a crushing home loss.
Succop's gaffe gave San Diego new life against what essentially was the Chiefs' second- and third-string. The Chargers took advantage of that second chance -- barely. A short Nick Novak field goal gave them a 27-24 overtime lead, then the defense stiffened after Kansas City drove to San Diego's 36.
"It's crazy, it's been ... I'm emotional about it because it's been an unreal ride this season," a slightly teary-eyed Philip Rivers told CBS. "We haven't been to the postseason in a long time. Percentage-wise, you want to do the math, we were under a one percent chance two weeks ago."
The odds weren't much better throughout much of the second half Sunday. The Chiefs, with most of their starters either inactive or resting, nabbed a 21-14 halftime lead nonetheless and extended it to 24-14 after three quarters (on a 46-yard Succop field goal, by the way).
The Chargers still trailed by three when they took over at their own 30, 7:37 on the clock. They drove deep into K.C. territory, then stalled at the four and settled for a field goal.
And that had the Chiefs needing only a field goal of their own to send San Diego packing ... and Pittsburgh to the playoffs. Backup QB Chase Daniel, starting in place of Alex Smith, put together more than enough of a drive to make that happen.
But Succop's potential game-winning kick drifted wide right.
"We left the TVs on a little longer today than normal," said Rivers on some pregame scoreboard-watching. "We didn't do our part for about three and a half quarters, but whatever you have to do to win -- there's no style points."
The Chargers' last playoff trip came in 2009, with the franchise haunted since then by the inability to finish off promising seasons. Even those Chargers squads that perennially challenged for or won the division were known as much for stumbling in the playoffs as anything they accomplished. Those failures eventually cost Norv Turner his job.
So there were more than a few folks expecting San Diego to find some way to hand Sunday's game away, even against a thinned-out Chiefs team with nothing of substance to play for.
They nearly did just that. Heck, they even looked at times like they were trying to do just that, with some sloppy offense and shaky defense. The fourth quarter was mostly a different story, with Rivers leading two scoring drives to put his team in position for overtime.
Head coach Mike McCoy then laid it all on the line in overtime, calling for a fake punt on 4th-and-2 from his own 28. Safety Eric Weddle picked up the first down -- and appeared to fumble the ball into Kansas City's arms, but for the determination that his forward progress had been stopped.
Another break the Chargers won't soon complain about.
The flip side of the dramatic San Diego win finds a Steelers team that likely was ready to celebrate when Succop lined up for his kick at the end of regulation. Had Succop hit that field goal, the Steelers, despite starting 0-4 and needing a list of scenarios about the length of War and Peace to occur for them to survive, would have claimed a wild-card berth. They took care of business earlier Sunday -- just as they had in Weeks 15 and 16 -- downing the Browns.
As the other teams racing Pittsburgh to a playoff spot fell by the wayside, though, the Chargers kept plugging along. The Jets tumbled out of contention prior to Week 17, then the Dolphins and Ravens followed them in rather surprising fashion.
San Diego never quite made it all the way to the bottom.
Did the Chargers deserve to win Sunday? Probably not. They also won't complain that fortune smiled upon them this time.
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