The disappointed Chargers (9-6) finish what was to be a special season on Saturday, hosting the Denver Broncos.
Instead of going for consecutive AFC West titles, the Chargers go pride. Instead of trying to secure a wild-card playoff berth, they'll try to reach double figures in victories.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. But five losses by 14 points, and the last one by 13, eliminated the Chargers from postseason contention.
"We had this attitude all year that we have this great team -- with Pro Bowlers all over the place -- and we are destined to make the playoffs," defensive end Luis Castillo said. "It's unbelievable; we always thought we were supposed to go."
Despite impressive wins over the Colts, Patriots, Redskins and Giants, the Chargers are out. A stretch run consisting of two losses (Dolphins, Chiefs) in three games sealed their fate.
But it was just as much the missed chances early as their late-season slide. The Chargers started 0-2, went to 3-4, then finally wore out from a demanding schedule.
"We tried to do something, that to be honest with you, was going to be difficult from the beginning," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "We had a tough schedule playing a lot of East Coast trips. But we believed we could do it, make the playoffs and make a run at it.
"It was tough at times this season, but this team fought all year, we really did."
Tomlinson was slowed by bruised ribs the last four games. Over that span, he didn't rush for 100 yards or score a touchdown. But he's adamant about playing Saturday.
"I want to finish the season strong," Tomlinson said.