C Nick Hardwick (USA TODAY Sports)
The San Diego Chargers must feel they're living charmed lives these days. How else to explain that everything they needed to have happen — and more — fell into place to allow them to sneak into the playoffs for the first time in four years?
"It feels like this season is meant to be special," Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle said after another epic, heart-stopping win against the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-24 in overtime on Sunday, gave the Chargers the AFC's final postseason spot. "Whether it happens or not, we'll read that story at the end. But we're in, and no one really thought that could happen."
Nick Novak kicked a 36-yard field goal with 5:30 left in overtime to give San Diego its only lead of the day. The Chargers, who trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter, then held the Chiefs on downs to win it after they got into San Diego territory.
"We didn't play our best game, but teams that are playoff teams find a way to win when you don't play your best and that's what we did today," quarterback Philip Rivers said after the Chargers (9-7) won their fourth straight and for the fifth time in six games.
They'll play a wild-card game next Sunday at AFC North champion Cincinnati, the last team to beat them, 17-10 at San Diego on Dec. 1.
The Chargers have needed help from other teams for weeks. Everything worked out for them on Sunday, but not before the Chargers and their fans had to squirm a bit.
Miami and Baltimore both lost, meaning San Diego could clinch the No. 6 seed with a win or tie.
Surprisingly, the Chargers trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter against a Chiefs team that already had clinched the AFC's No. 5 seed and rested 20 of 22 starters, including Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Alex Smith.
The Chargers kept getting new chances. After San Diego tied it by scoring 10 points on consecutive possessions, Kansas City's Ryan Succop was wide right on a potential game-winning, 41-yard field goal try with 4 seconds left in regulation.
"It was just kind of like we got a new life," Rivers said. "It was like, all right, we just got a second chance, because it was over. We were maybe going to get a snap offensively."
The Chiefs called heads during the overtime coin toss, and it came up tails. The Chargers got the ball first and elected to receive. The drive was kept alive by a 2-yard gain by Weddle on a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from the Chargers 28.
"I just felt we could get 2 yards as a punt team with me running the ball and if we are going to go down let's go down doing what we do best and that is being aggressive and fighting to the end," Weddle said. "And we just got enough and I'm glad we got it."
By having to settle for the field goal, the Chargers gave Kansas City an opportunity.
Chase Daniel, starting for Smith, moved the Chiefs to a first-and-10 on the Chargers 36. But Knile Davis lost 5 yards, Daniel threw three straight incomplete passes and the game was over.
"What a wild ride, all 16 games and it comes down to the last game," Weddle said. "A lot of people had us out but we stuck together in the locker room. It's the best team, morale, togetherness, that I have ever been a part of.
"It didn't look great at times in that game and now we are in the tournament. We can't wait to go to Cincinnati."
The Chiefs (11-5) go into the playoffs having lost five of seven. They play Saturday at AFC South champion Indianapolis, which won 23-7 in Kansas City last week.
"I look at the positive of it," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of resting most of his starters. "We got a lot of guys in to get practice with the game plan if we do meet up with San Diego again. And the guys came out and played. You get to see, from a depth perspective, that you've got some guys who can play and want to compete."
Said Davis: "We treated it just like any other game. It all comes down to us going out and doing our jobs. That was our mindset. We're hungry now."
San Diego also beat the Chiefs 41-38 at Kansas City on Nov. 24.
With the Chargers on the verge of an embarrassing collapse against a team with nothing to play for, Rivers threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal early in the fourth quarter and Novak kicked a 22-yard field goal to tie it with 3:21 left in regulation.
The Chiefs led 21-14 at halftime, getting touchdown runs of 17 and 2 yards by Davis and a 2-yard pass from Daniel to Dexter McCluster following an interception by Rivers.
San Diego scored on Rivers' passes of 22 yards to Ladarius Green and 4 yards to Antonio Gates.
NOTES: San Diego's Ryan Mathews rushed 24 times for 144 yards, extending his career-best season total to 1,255. ... The Chargers allowed 143 yards rushing, with Davis getting 81 on 27 carries and Daniel 59 on seven carries.