The Chargers try to extend their winning streak to a season-best four games when they entertain the fading Detroit Lions on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
It's an interconference matchup of teams heading in different directions.
While the AFC's Chargers are on fire, the Lions aren't firing on all cylinders after losing five straight, including Sunday's heartbreaker to the Cowboys.
But the Chargers aren't concerned with the Lions' woes. They overcame their share of obstacles -- a 1-3 start -- to have a shot of clinching their second straight AFC West title on Sunday.
If the Broncos stumble on Thursday night at Houston and the Chargers prevail, it'll be the first time they have earned consecutive playoff trips since 1995-95.
That was a long time ago. So, it seems, was earlier this year, when the Chargers were being labeled one of the NFL's most disappointing teams.
Instead, the present is looking good, and the future is so bright, the Chargers are reaching for the sun block.
It's not too much of a stretch to think the Chargers could win out, beating the Lions, Broncos and Raiders as they lean toward the tape. If so, the Chargers could even end up with the AFC's No. 3 seed, behind the Patriots and the Colts, heading into the playoffs.
But that's all to be determined. What's evident is the Chargers are playing well at, well, just the right time.
"I think that's the idea," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "We know, for the most part of the season, we haven't really hit our stride and played our best football. We feel like hopefully we can play our best football down the stretch."
Last Sunday's visit to Tennessee not only delivered a hard-fought overtime triumph but a huge dose of confidence, too. It seems players are starting to believe in what coach Norv Turner has been preaching since the season started.
His message was simple: It's how the team looks at the end, not the beginning, that matters.
"I do believe we're playing better than we have at any point during the year, but I think we can improve a lot more in the next month," Turner said.
But he hasn't forgotten the pain that came with losing three of the first four games.
"Being 1-3, it's terrible and it was a terrible feeling," Turner said. "But I think our guys have enough confidence in what were doing that we found a way."
The way to go from here is on a hot streak into the playoffs. Although the way the Chargers are banged up -- quarterback Philip Rivers, linebacker Shawne Merriman, fullback Lorenzo Neal, defensive tackle Jamal Williams are hurt -- it might not be an easy road.
If nothing else, at least the Chargers won't leave California until the playoffs -- and then San Diego likely will host a first-round game. The Chargers have two regular-season home games remaining, and their last road trip is in Oakland.
SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting. Chargers lead, 5-3. The Chargers have won five straight, with the teams last playing in Detroit in 2003. The Lions' last visit to San Diego was on Nov. 11, 1996, when Stan Humphries returned to the starting lineup and the Chargers won 27-21.
--Coach Norv Turner said he sent in a series of plays, including the one in which Shawne Merriman was injured on Sunday, to the league office for clarification.
--QB Philip Rivers and RB LaDainian Tomlinson chuckled at the perceived rift between the two. CBS cameras on Sunday showed Tomlinson abruptly getting off the bench just when Rivers sat down. "I don't see any need to comment on it," Rivers said. "I have seen the clip and I still think nothing of it. Hey, when things are going good, they want to find something that is going bad, and things have been going good here for a while."
--Pro Bowl C Nick Hardwick said coach Norv Turner kept his cool when he was feeling the heat earlier this year. "He never panicked," Hardwick said. "He had the same approach every week and just stayed the course.
--With all of their injuries, the Chargers are going to need to show off their depth. "We have some guys out, and obviously we need guys to step up as they have done in the past," Turner said. "Marques Harris has done it in the past, and I was pleased with Andrew Pinnock, the way he came in and did some good things for Lorenzo Neal. That's what we're going to have to have."
--Tomlinson was among the ecstatic players to get a Victory Monday off after the Chargers beat the Titans. "Particularly towards the end of the season, it gives you time to rest your legs and stay away from being on your feet," Tomlinson said. "Just getting away from football a little bit. It gets more important now. Each game gets more important. It will just give us a couple of days just to refresh before we prepare for Detroit."
--Tomlinson has produced a carry of at least 10 yards in 24 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
--Chargers TE Antonio Gates is a Detroit native, and he led Detroit Central High to the Class A football title as a senior. Gates was all-state in football and basketball.
--Stan Kwan, the Lions' special teams coach, was on coach Bobby Ross' staff during the Chargers' 1994 Super Bowl season. Kwan's special teams have slipped of late, with the Lions' kick- and punt-coverage teams rating No. 31 and No. 30, respectively.
--Former Chargers WR Shawn Jefferson is a Lions offensive assistant coach.
--Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz coached at San Diego Mesa College.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Player who has rushed for 1,200 yards in his first seven seasons, Eric Dickerson. LaDainian Tomlinson can join him if he gains 5 yards Sunday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's an amazing athlete. He's a guy that really does have a knack for the ball. He's got great jumping ability, great closing speed. He's got the long arms. He can really catch the football." -- Coach Norv Turner on CB Antonio Cromartie, who leads the NFL with nine interceptions.
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