Chargers Ride Hot Streak to Round Two

The Chargers are going to Pittsburgh in mid-January and they couldn't be happier.

"We're playing a team that has home-field advantage and is a good team," coach Norv Turner said. "They are strong against the run and have the best pressure package in the NFL."

But the Chargers like their chances Sunday in an AFC Divisional Playoff game. The Chargers nearly defeated the Steelers at home earlier in the year, and after once sitting at 4-8, a trip to Pittsburgh hardly seems daunting.

Of course, the challenge facing the Chargers is enhanced with running back LaDainian Tomlinson ailing and not expected to play. Tomlinson is suffering from a groin injury and was restricted to five carries against the Colts.

"I'm enjoying the ride but I'm worried about my health," Tomlinson said. "Long term, I don't have time to think about that. I'm not too concerned about that. Short term I'm very concerned. I don't know what's ahead of me in the near future. It's going to be something that we will have to wait and see."


RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Stephen Dunn/Getty

But Tomlinson's body language and reports that the injury is more severe than a strain paints a picture of the Chargers playing on without their star running back.

Which means more of Darren Sproles, and the Chargers will take an encore of his showing on Sunday.

Sproles was pressed into additional playing time because of Tomlinson's absence and he responded with 105 rushing yards and two touchdown runs, including the winning one in overtime. All told, Sproles had an amazing 328 all-purpose yards, the third-most in NFL playoff history.

At 5-6, 181 pounds, Sproles is an unlikely suspect to help carry the Chargers' offense.

"Sometimes they can't see me when I get up in the hole," Sproles said.

"Darren is short, but there is nothing small about him," Turner said. "He is a powerful guy."

The Chargers will also need another big effort from Philip Rivers. Rivers has been among the NFL's top quarterbacks down the stretch, but he'll have to master the Steelers' complex blitz packages.

But much like the team, Rivers has a confidence that comes from climbing off the scrap heap to be among the NFL's elite eight teams still playing.

"This was just another step toward our ultimate goal," Rivers said of winning his third playoff game in two seasons. "We've set the bar high, and we're going to keep on working to meet those goals and hopefully go all the way."

It's a path they will likely take without any significant contributions from Tomlinson. But this is a team that proved it can't be sold short. And by going to Pittsburgh, it gets an extra day of preparation and rest, one game after a physical effort against the Colts.

"When we were 4-8," Turner said, "I'd be lying if I said I thought we would be in the playoffs."

They've gone one better, advancing to the second week and are one win shy of consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship Game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We got him packed in ice. We will let him out on Friday." -- Coach Norv Turner on the undersized Sproles being ready for Sunday's game after his heavy workload in Saturday's win over the Colts.

TRENDING: The Chargers are looking to beat a second playoff team in the second straight week after losing to them in the regular season. The Steelers eked out an 11-10 victory in November. The Chargers had lost to the Colts, 23-20, before upsetting them in the wild-card playoff game. The Chargers were 0-5 against playoff teams in the regular season.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--TE Antonio Gates was able to play through a sprained ankle - he had team-highs in receptions and receiving yards - and will go again Sunday.

--WR Malcom Floyd could play this week after sitting out three games with a collapsed lung.

--K Nate Kaeding is nursing a sore groin that could cost him distance on kickoffs and field goals.

--OLB Antwan Applewhite (back) could be limited in practice.

--DE Luis Castillo (groin) will play Sunday but could be limited in practice.

--C Nick Hardwick (shoulder) will have his practice time curtailed but will start Sunday.

-- LB Brandon Siler (foot) will be available Sunday.


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