How the West Was Won

Approximately two weeks ago, the Chargers were a .500 club that had lost two of its last three games. The Broncos were charging fast, winning back-to-back games by a combined score of 61-31. How quickly things have changed in the AFC West. The Chargers have a two-game lead with four to play and chance to clinch on Sunday.

The Chargers can clinch their third AFC West title in four years on Sunday. First, the Bolts must handle their business in Tennessee during the early game. If the Chargers are triumphant, they will head back to the locker room to see if the Kansas City Chiefs can upset the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field.

If the Chargers and Chiefs win, San Diego is in.

That puts the Chiefs in a precarious situation. If they spark a late season surge up the AFC West standings, their first win could hand the division title to the Chargers.

"Who's to say that (San Diego) won't go out and lose all of the rest of their games and Denver goes out and loses all of theirs, and we win all of ours," Chiefs linebacker Napoleon Harris said. "We have to go out there and play every game trying to win."

In times like this, Chargers fans can relish Herm Edwards' "we play to win the game" mantra. When Chiefs fans want their 4-8 squad to play for 2008, Edwards will have the troops ready for Denver.

"We have 16 games," Chiefs guard Brian Water said. "That's what they pay us for. That's the way the season is set up and that's the way we're going to play. It's our job as professionals to play all 16 games with the same amount of energy and the same amount of passion and try to figure out how to get better throughout those same 16 games."

In the race for the finish line, the Chiefs seem to be running in place. The Chargers, meanwhile, have their chests protruded as they lunge for the tape.

LaDainian Tomlinson is back in MVP form, rattling the Chiefs' defense for 197 total yards and two touchdowns. He serves as the catalyst for a team that has scored 23 or more points in six of the last eight games.

The Chargers are a tough to beat when they put those kinds of points on the board. Opponents are forced to pass their way back into games, allowing Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips to pin their ears back and go. That formula worked over the last weeks, when the Chargers combined for 12 sacks en route to their second winning streak of the season.

"We've always believed we're a good team," Phillips said. "We worked hard and we've always believed we're a talented team. That hasn't changed since week one. We've always believed that and we'll continue to believe that -- win, lose or draw."

The Chargers never set out to win 14 games this season. No player mentioned shooting for the No. 1 seed. This team's only objective was to earn a place in the NFL's second season and give itself a shot at redemption.

As turbulent as the 2007 season has been, the Bolts may be one week away from bringing that dream to fruition.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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