They completed the task Sunday with a win over the Broncos, and they move on as the division champ and play host to the Colts on Saturday in the playoff opener.
That the Chargers have a .500 record and that none of their eight wins came over a 2008 playoff team doesn't dampen their enthusiasm, although they recognize the difficulty of the task at hand, trying to stop MVP candidate Peyton Manning.
"If we let Peyton sit back there and set his feet, he is going to kill you," Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper said.
But the Chargers were left for road kill long ago, when they fell to 4-8 back on Nov. 30. It marked the team's fifth loss in six games and all but torpedoed their hopes of another AFC West title.
QB Philip Rivers
"We took a different route than we thought we would, but we're here," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We're all 0-0 now. We know the Colts are going to be tough, but we're excited and we'll be ready."
What looked to be a quiet January now has a buzz. And the team that fell four quarters shy of its second Super Bowl in team history last season suddenly has a fresh pulse.
"We know the expectations we set out and how high they were at the start of the year," Rivers said. "All we've done is re-open some of those goals now that we've gotten ourselves into January."
How far they go remains to be seen. But to even reaching the playoffs after being 4-8 is something to build on as they try to knock off the Colts.
--San Diego's offense is getting the headlines after putting 93 points on the board in the past two games. But the defense is playing well, too. It held the Broncos to 21 points.
"I couldn't be happier in the way the defense performed," coach Norv Turner said, "because this is an explosive offensive team."
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson isn't shy about voicing who he thinks should be the NFL's MVP. He will face him Saturday at Qualcomm Stadium. "I would say he is the MVP, no question," Tomlinson said of Colts QB Peyton Manning.
--QB Philip Rivers passed Dan Fouts to break the Chargers record for most touchdown passes in a single season, 34. What's funny is Rivers' coach, Norv Turner, was a backup to Fouts at the University of Oregon. Turner said he has yet to hear from Fouts. "I'm sure I will," Turner said.
--The Chargers were sitting at 4-8 before their amazing run to a third straight AFC West title, and team president Dean Spanos said one person is more responsible than others for that run.
"I think it says a lot about the resiliency of the team -- they stuck together," he said. "The catalyst and person who made it all happen was the head coach. I think Norv has done a tremendous job.
"We are fortunate to be where we are, there is no doubt about it. But we are 0-0 right now and starting all over. Just get in the playoffs -- that is the whole thing."
--The Chargers eliminated the Colts last season in the playoffs, beating them in the final game played in the RCA Dome. The Colts are the only hotter team than the Chargers, ending the season on a nine-game winning streak.
"We have a lot of respect for them guys," Tomlinson said.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson underwent an MRI exam Monday that showed a groin strain. He said he is not 100 percent and could be compromised in practice. He'll likely play, but Tomlinson didn't dance around how an injury like his hampers a running back cutting and changing direction as much as he does.
--WR Malcom Floyd (collapsed lung) will try to increase his practice time this week and has a shot at playing Saturday.
--TE Antonio Gates (ankle) should be OK for Saturday, although could miss some practice time.
--DE Luis Castillo (groin) could miss some practice time, but he will play Saturday.
--OLB Shaun Phillips (knee) should be OK this week.
--LB Brandon Siler (foot) should be able to go this week.