But this week -- at least one more week -- they are still alive. They can still say their prayers and hope they can run the table with three more wins as the Broncos lose all three of their final games.
What else can they do?
It's tough swallowing the pill, which comes when expectations meet reality.
"You would hate to be in a situation where you have to depend on a team to lose," tight end Antonio Gates said. "We can only control what we control."
The Chiefs played great that afternoon and nearly upset the Chargers. Gates said rivals giving their own have what the Chargers have seen a steady diet of.
"Once you are established, an elite team with 11-12 Pro Bowlers, you are going to get each team's best shot," Gates said, "That is what elite is all about; we didn't expect no team to take us lightly and no team has taken us lightly."
That's why the Chargers can't flick off the Chiefs on Sunday like lint. Especially in Kansas City, where Arrowhead Stadium will be rocking.
"It's certainly loud," said quarterback Philip Rivers, who'll try to get the snap count down the line in the din. "You start off slow and dig yourselves a hole and it's only going to continue to get louder and be an issue with you.
"Hopefully you get off to a fast start and keep it somewhat under control Sunday."
But it could officially unravel with a loss Sunday -- lose and see you in 2009.
Well, maybe not everyone on a team that has never found its mojo on a consistent basis. As the team aims for the heartland, it's also time for a gut check.
"You are always playing for a job -- this is the National Football League," Gates said. "It's a business obviously.
"In this situation you get to evaluate your teammates when things are not going well; things not going the way you want them to go.
"You see the true leaders, the true teammates to pick each and other in a time of need."
The Chargers are in some need of some big-time help -- hello, Carolina over Denver. But first they must prove they have what it takes to help themselves.
SERIES HISTORY: 97th regular-season meeting. The Chiefs lead the series 50-45-1. The Chargers traditionally have a tough go playing in Kansas City. They have lost 10 of their past 13 and nine of their past 11 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chargers' biggest win over the Chiefs came in the 1992 wild-card playoff game in Qualcomm Stadium, where the Chargers prevailed 17-0.
QB Philip Rivers
--QB Philip Rivers said his teammates have remained strong through a challenging season. "I think the toughest part is mentally staying strong because it can beat you down and wear you down, especially when you have the expectations that we had and haven't lived up to them," Rivers said. "Guys have really stayed positive."
--Chiefs coach Herm Edwards is 5-4 against the Chargers as a head coach. His biggest win came when he was directing the Jets and upset the Chargers as a visiting wild-card team in the 2004 playoffs.
--TE Antonio Gates said he expects nothing but the Chargers' best efforts as they wrap up the season at Kansas City, at Tampa Bay and against Denver.
"We're not quitters," he said. "That is something in this locker room -- the leaders and character is second to none in my opinion. No way we would quit on a season."
--TE Brandon Manumaleuna's father, Frank, played for the Chiefs from 1979-81.
--Ex-Chargers LB Donnie Edwards (knee), the Chargers' leading tackler in each of his five years here before leaving after the 2006 season for K.C., has missed the past three games and isn't expect to play with a knee injury.
--The Chargers head back out on the road with a woeful 1-5 mark away from Qualcomm. The reason? "I don't think there is a definitive answer for that," Rivers said.
--The Chargers' Sunday night game against Tampa Bay on Dec. 21 has been bumped with the team's fading chances of making the playoffs. The game will now be played in the afternoon at Tampa. Fla.
--The Chargers have said they will not raise ticket prices for the 2009 season. They will also expand their family sections, which prohibit alcohol consumption.
--The Chargers won in Kansas City last year and are attempting consecutive victories at Arrowhead for the first time since 1980-81.
--K.C. defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was a Chargers coach from 1985-90.
--Chiefs T Damion McIntosh played on the Chargers' 1-15 team of 2000.
BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- Times these teams have played a game that ended in a one-point margin. That's the most one-point games between two teams since 1960, when the AFL started.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're fighting to hopefully finish at .500 and never know if we'll play more after that or not. We're going to keep fighting." -- QB Philip Rivers, on what the disappointing Chargers are playing for down the stretch.
SS Clinton Hart
SS Clinton Hart is being eased into practice after a neck injury he suffered two weeks ago. He suited up last Thursday night, but he didn't see the field. It figures if Hart does go -- he'll probably start -- he could be compromised once he takes a hit. Look for Steven Gregory to see time getting a good share of reps. Gregory graded out pretty well in replacing Hart last game and the coaches have confidence in him. But when Gregory is in there, that gives the Chargers two inexperienced players at safety -- first-year starter Eric Weddle plays free safety.
--WR Vincent Jackson has set career highs in catches (44) and yards (851); his six scoring catches ties another career mark.
--TE Antonio Gates hasn't caught a touchdown pass since Nov. 9, the last time the Chargers faced the Chiefs.
--WR Chris Chambers is coming off a game in which he didn't have a catch and has but two in the last two games. In two contests this year, Chambers has played and not recorded a catch.
--QB Philip Rivers is coming off a three-touchdown pass game and he has a career-high 26 this season. He needs seven more to tie Dan Fouts' team mark.
--FS Eric Weddle continues to draw praise from coach Norv Turner for his improved play of late. Weddle, in his first year as a starter, has 103 tackles, one off the team lead.
--RB Darren Sproles continues to play well, which will increase his value in the offseason. Sproles had two touchdown receptions in the win over Raiders -- he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers showed a real purpose in establishing the run with giving LaDainian Tomlinson a heavy dose of work in the first quarter. His 49 first-quarter rushing yards in the win over the Raider eclipsed his total in four complete games this season.
So the thinking is the Chiefs will get their own heavy heaping of Tomlinson considering they are ranked 31st in run defense and dead last in overall defense.
It seemed the Chargers collected a swagger from being so physical early in the game and it carried on through four quarters. Look for the Chargers to try and beat down the lowly Chiefs early with a physical approach, relying on the stout offensive line and the fit legs of Tomlinson.
NT Jamal Williams
Chargers run defense, which is led by a rejuvenated Jamal Williams, vs. a Chiefs running game featuring RB Larry Johnson.
The Chargers nearly lost to the visiting Chiefs in their last meeting and that was without a suspended Johnson. The run defense gets no such luck on Sunday as a revved Johnson will be eager to show he is, and not LaDainian Tomlinson, the best back on the field. But the Chargers have showed some improved play in defending the run; Williams has been a force of late. But Johnson rushed for but 36 yards in 11 carries in last week's loss. Although against the Chargers, Johnson often does well. In eight games against the Chargers (five starts), Johnson has averaged 4.5 yards on 138 carries, which includes five touchdowns and three 100-yard games.
Chargers passing game and the pass protection vs. the Chiefs passive pass rush.
The Chargers showed last week they can stretch the field when Philip Rivers is given time -- he had a 59-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson. To get Jackson, Chris Chambers and Malcolm Floyd involved, Rivers is going to need the time to let them go through their double moves and such for the downfield strikes. Rivers needs the time to be able to go through his progressions at least once. Among the Chiefs' woes is their anemic pass rush, one that has spit out an NFL-low six sacks. By being so comfortable in the pocket, Rivers could pick the most wide-open target while picking on the Chiefs' pass defense and two rookie cornerbacks who'll be asked to stick with receivers longer than can be expected.
Chargers running game, with LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, against a wobbly Chiefs defense.
Tomlinson will take aim at the NFL's No. 31-ranked run defense. He's feeling good after a decent game last week and the weather might lend itself to some good-fashioned smash-mouth football at the hands of a shaky run defense that has a rookie in Glenn Dorsey at right tackle. But Sproles could also get the ball -- especially on a short pass which is like a run -- as he proved last week again how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands. The Chargers could generate a lot of offense out of their backfield on Sunday.
--FB Mike Tolbert (shoulder) was a limited participant and could be down another week. Rookie Jacob Hester would get another start.
--DT Jamal Williams was given his customary Wednesday off day and will play this week.
--S Clinton Hart (neck) was a limited participant but it looks like he will go Sunday.
--OLB Marques Harris (hamstring) worked part of the practice and will try to increase his workload Thursday.