Norv Turner (Joe Robbins/Getty)
The AFC West champions are returning to the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1994-95. But the Chargers want more than a token appearance. They aim to stick around, and that starts by beating the Titans in Sunday's wild-card round at Qualcomm Stadium.
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson, fresh from collecting his second straight rushing title, is ready.
"You go through the whole season to get to this point, to have a chance to be one-and-done and to say, 'you know what, we are at this position now and we know that if we lose, we go home,'" he said. "There is a sense of urgency."
The Chargers were long predicted to be a playoff participant. But after starting 1-3 under new coach Norv Turner and being at 5-5, it was far from a certainty. But playing in the watered-down AFC West certainly helped the Chargers' chances.
"We felt like we were going to be at this point and now when you are finally here you do say, 'OK, now we play football and we can do the things we are capable of doing and what everybody has been waiting to see,'" Tomlinson said. "And we're at that point now. I'm excited, I really am excited to see these guys play and see how we are going to do."
The Chargers' playoff showing of late has made their fans cover their eyes. They haven't won a postseason game since defeating the Steelers in the 1994 AFC Championship Game. That got them to their lone Super Bowl where they were routed by the 49ers. The Colts then beat them the following season, and then there were losses to the Jets and Patriots under ex-coach Marty Schottenheimer.
But the Chargers enter the postseason on a roll, winners of six straight and 10 of their last 12.
"It's confidence," Turner said. "When you are playing well, you have that confidence."
The Chargers were hot last year, too, at an NFL-best 14-2. But Tomlinson said the AFC's top seed didn't react accordingly in the playoffs.
"I think last year we didn't know what to expect," Tomlinson said. "It was so easy. We were just going to blow through everybody and pretty much handle everybody in the playoffs. We felt like we were playing that good.
"This year we had to work for it and we know what it's like to be in a position where you got to fight for everything you get. I think that mindset is what we have now. We know it's going to be tough with New England, Indy, Jacksonville and who we play. It's going to be tough. So our mindset has to be to go into the game and we have to work for everything we have to get."
Whenever the Chargers' season ends, they will likely let two players leave via free agency: cornerback Drayton Florence and running back Michael Turner. Antonio Cromartie has supplanted Florence in the starting lineup and Darren Sproles eclipsed Turner as Tomlinson's backup.
--DT Jamal Williams sat out the final two games to be fresh for the playoffs. Williams, the anchor of the run defense, is nursing a sore ankle and hip.
--K Dave Rayner was signed for kickoff duties, with Nate Kaeding restricted to field-goal attempts because of a bruised left leg. It's not certain if Kaeding will handle kickoffs in the playoffs.
--OLB Marques Harris should be ready for the playoffs after a recent hand surgery. He didn't play in the regular-season finale.
--FB Lorenzo Neal is hoping to be fit for the playoffs. He hasn't played since Dec. 9 when breaking his leg.
--Rookie S Eric Weddle continues to get snaps at the expense of Marlon McCree.