DENVER - As far as the Chargers were concerned, last Sunday's 27-10 win over the Bengals wasn't their first playoff win this season. It was their fifth, starting with a 37-14 win over the Giants.
Linebacker Melvin Ingram explains. "The way we look at it, we've been in the playoffs since the last month of the season," he said. "Every game was a must-win, so we looked at it like it's win or go home. That's the way we've been treating every game now."
Ingram has a point. After the Chargers lost to the Bengals at home Dec. 1 to fall to 5-7, they knew there was no margin for error in their remaining four games. They started with their convincing win over the Giants, who were trying to stage their own unlikely comeback, and San Diego hasn't lost since. The Chargers beat the Broncos the following week in Denver -- the Broncos' only home loss -- then beat Oakland and Kansas City the next two weeks to finish 9-7.
The Ravens and Dolphins helped San Diego out by losing on the final weekend, and the Chargers were in the tournament.
Step 1 was a rousing success, as the Chargers manhandled the Bengals in last Sunday's first-round game in Cincinnati. It was the Bengals' only home loss, and it kept up the momentum for a Chargers team that has gained plenty of confidence from their late-season surge.
Now it's on to Denver for Sunday's AFC divisional-round game against the Broncos, who go into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.
Is an upset looming? The Chargers believe that'll be the case.
"We're excited and confident," safety Eric Weddle said. "We're playing well as a team, and we'll see what happens. It's going to be a great game and a great battle. We held them to 28 and 20 in both games, so you never know. It could be a shootout or it could be a close game. That's the great thing about the playoffs. You just have to play every down, play together and rely on each other."
Relying on each other -- that's been the formula the Chargers have used to get this far under first-year coach Mike McCoy, who succeeded Norv Turner after doing a bang-up job during his run as the Broncos' offensive coordinator. McCoy knows the Broncos as well as anyone else, so rest assured he will have every angle covered for this one.
And don't be surprised if he takes a page from last month's upset win in Denver. Using a ball-control offense that relied on the running game and plenty of short passes from quarterback Philip Rivers, the Chargers did a terrific job of playing keep-away from Peyton Manning, limiting his effectiveness by limiting his playing time. The Chargers kept the ball for 38:49 in their Week 15 win, and they'd love to duplicate that number in the playoff rematch.
"We will be confident but we have to be careful not to be overconfident, and we won't be," Rivers said. "Just because we won there a few weeks ago doesn't mean anything. But it will give us some confidence knowing we've gone there and won before. They have the best quarterback of all time, one of the best offenses of all time and a defense that really gets after it and feeds off that [crowd] noise. They're a No. 1 seed for a reason, but we will go in there hungry and fired up and give it our best."