With the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers likely commanding first round byes and homefield throughout the playoffs, the league was interested to see how San Diego would respond to their first cold weather game of the year.
As expected, the game was sloppy but the Bolts proved they were the king of the igloo. They ran the ball fifty times and threw just six passes – by design.
"It was all about the weather," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "Once we got up, it was a matter of managing the game. In these kinds of conditions, that is what you have to do.
"I have a little bit of experience at it. You have to manage the game. The ball is more important than anything. The ball is often times more important than making a first down."
Somehow, the Chargers managed to get 16 first downs, despite running the ball 19 straight times during one stretch and another eleven consecutive after that.
After watching Phil Dawson's field goal attempt to wide right – affecting severely by the win – made the decision to run easy. It wasn't just the snow and the cold, the wind was whipping to and fro as well. They only threw two passes after the Dawson miss.
"There was a lot of snow on the ground, but you cannot escape that wind. I do not care if you have sleeves or no sleeves, it does not make a difference. The wind is still going to be cold. It really affects the guys who came from Miami. Some of them have never seen snow."
Even Browns players were impressed by Mother Nature:
"Definitely the coldest," running back Lee Suggs said. "I guess you could say that a field covered in snow is pretty slippery."
The reason the Chargers were able to abandon the pass entirely was the Gates touchdown reception. That put San Diego up by 14 and made clock and game management more important. They could rely on strong defense instead of trying to fight the weather.
So they ran the ball and gave it to the guy who has regained his edge, literally.
LaDainian Tomlinson put forth another 100-yard game, his fourth in the past five weeks, and has been the driving force behind the last half of the Chargers eight game winning streak.
"The most important thing is taking care of the football," Tomlinson said. "A lot of times you cannot feel your hands. You cannot tell if you have the ball at times. This is the coldest weather I have ever played a game in. It was incredible. I am glad I live in San Diego."
The road to the Super Bowl will now officially start for the Chargers in San Diego but will likely go through the east coast powers. That means a road game in Pittsburgh or in New England. Having faced the winter storm in Cleveland, the Chargers continued to look like the team of destiny.
"If we go to New England or Pittsburgh in the playoffs, it might be the same thing," Brees said, thankful of the opportunity to prove the Bolts could win in the environment.
The east coast teams are officially on notice. The San Diego Chargers are division champs and will be around well into January.
Denis Savage can be reached at email@example.com
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