Sports Out West

Chargers vs. Broncos, AFC Divisional: Bolts using ‘playoff mode’ advantage

Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers have been fighting for their lives since they were 5-7 after a disappointing 17-10 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 1.

As they prepare to take on the Denver Broncos on Sunday in the AFC Divisional round, being in that position has helped them stay loose; that approach has helped them play their best when the stakes are highest. 

“We’ve been in playoff mode since December,” said quarterback Philip Rivers after practice on Friday. 

The us-against-the-world narrative is one the Chargers have embraced, and it shows in their approach to each game and moment. But what about the fact that Xs and Os have to be a major part of preparing to face a No. 1 seed in Denver. 

“Not being overconfident,” said fullback Le’Ron McClain when asked how to find the balance between staying loose while preparing with focus. “Still doing your same routine, still doing your same things, just knowing there’s a little more emphasis on this game.

“Eight quarters away from the big dance, we’ve got to win these four to get to the next four. That’s the mindset I think a lot of guys around here have.”

What got the Chargers to this point were six straight victories, including an AFC Wild Card win against the Bengals where San Diego got sweet revenge. They’ve played with more freedom and confidence as the weeks have worn on, and the players feel that there is substance to the idea that they can use the momentum as an advantage. 

“You can see how loose we are in this locker room,” said tight end Antonio Gates. “We are pretty confident in what we can do. If we listened to the hype and what the experts say, we wouldn’t be in this position.” 

That enviable position is one which the Chargers found themselves in after an improbable set of circumstances in Week 17 of the regular season unfolded in order to allow them to sneak in to the NFL’s postseason tournament. In addition to beating the Kansas City Chiefs, the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens each had to lose to their opponents. All three events took place, and the Bolts find themselves in position to do something special come Sunday. 

“Once we have that belief that we can get something done collectively, and you go out and do it together, anything can happen, added Gates. “Now it’s time for us to go into a hostile environment like Denver and try to do it again.” 

Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports

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Michael C. Jones is the managing editor and founder of Sports Out West and a Southern California-based sports journalist. His work is also regularly featured on Yahoo! Sports and SB Nation. You can catch up with him on Twitter: @MikeJonesTweets.