From Long-Shots to Last Ones Standing

It took a pair of Ravens losses, a pair of Dolphins losses and a missed field goal by Ryan Succop -- not to mention a four-game winning streak to end the season -- but in the end the Chargers had just enough to sweep the Chiefs and snag the AFC's final wildcard spot with a 27-24 overtime win on Sunday.

The Chargers felt like winners before their season finale even kicked off. With the Ravens and Dolphins losing earlier in the day, San Diego inexplicably controlled its own playoff fate. All that was needed was a win over a Chiefs team that planned to rest 20 of its 22 starters.

The final piece of the puzzle figured to be easy, but instead turned into one of the most wild games of the season. The Chargers trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter and never led in regulation, yet rallied for a win in the extra period. The game's two signature plays were a missed 41-yard field goal by Ryan Succop that would have won the game for Kansas City at the end of regulation, and a fake punt executed by Eric Weddle in overtime that extended San Diego's go-ahead scoring drive.

It was a gratifying end to a regular season in which the Chargers too often seemed to come up just short. The team was one first down away from beating the Titans and 1 yard away from topping the Redskins. But the troops never gave up on new coach Mike McCoy and rallied all the way to the playoffs in his first year at the helm.

The Chargers finish at 9-7, including 4-2 in the division. With the win, Philip Rivers (22 of 33, 229 yards, three TDs, one INT) improved to 30-6 in the month of December. Ryan Mathews ran 24 times for a personal-best 144 yards, bringing him to a career-best 1,255 rushing yards on the year. Keenan Allen caught five balls for 89 yards, setting a new Chargers rookie record with 1,046 receiving yards.

The Chargers, who began the year ranked No. 27 in the Associated Press power rankings, now play into the second season. They head to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, who are 8-0 at home, including a victory over the Ravens in Week 17 that helped the Bolts into the postseason.

The Bengals are coached by Marvin Lewis, who is a branch on the Marty Schottenheimer coaching tree. The knock on Lewis is the same as it was against Schottenheimer; his teams can get into the playoffs but tend to underperform once there. Cincinnati went one-and-done in the playoffs in 2011 and 2012.

The wildcard game will take place on Sunday at 10:05 a.m. (PT).

It is a rematch of a Week 13 contest in which the Bengals won in San Diego, 17-0. It was a sloppy game for the Chargers, as Allen lost a fumble and Antonio Gates had a hand in two turnovers. On the bright side, San Diego has not lost since.

What do you think of the Bolts-Bengals matchup? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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