In early October the San Diego Chargers were left for dead. They had just lost a Monday night home game against the Denver Broncos and were 2-3 while Denver at the time was 5-0. What a difference two months make. Nine weeks later the Chargers are once again AFC West champs after a tough 27-24 win over a grieving Cincinnati Bengals.
The win was the 9th straight for the Chargers, who have had a remarkable turnaround after starting the season looking like it was going to be tough for them just to make a wild card spot. “It’s an incredible feeling,” star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman said.
Winning the AFC West became official after the Broncos choked in the final seconds against the Raiders. Nate Keading put the final nail in the AFC West coffin for the Broncos when he kicked the Chargers to a win with a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left.
“There was a lot of adrenaline in that kind of situation, coming down to the wire and going for the win,” Kaeding said. “Once it came off my foot, I knew it was good, and mayhem ensued from there.”
The Bengals were playing a tough game and played tough despite the circumstances. They had lost teammate Chris Henry just a few days ago, and tears flowed freely as the team took a moment of silence along with San Diego at the start of the game.
“The main thing we want people to realize is that Chris is a guy who turned his life around and this football team had done the same thing,” Bengals tackle Andre Whitworth said. “He signifies what we are.”
The loss for Cincy means they once again have to wait another week to try to officially win the AFC North. They also have yet to clinch a playoff spot in the AFC despite being 9-5 and atop the division past the Steelers and Ravens.
“It was a little empty feeling,” Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco said. “It was bigger than football without him. Today I played with an extra set of hands, an extra set of legs and an extra heart.” Ochocinco had a big day playing for his former teammate, as he caught 3 passes for 79 yards and a score.
Philip Rivers was 24-for-38 for 308 yards with three touchdowns and two picks. “We just did what we had to do to get it done,” said Rivers. The Chargers improved to 17-0 in December since 2006.
The question now is – can they play that well in January and maybe beyond.