Norv Turner (Winslow Townson/Getty)
They started at 1-3 and were scuffling at 5-5. But here come the playoffs and the Chargers find themselves as the AFC's No. 3 seed. The Chargers kicked back Monday, will be off Tuesday then get back to work Wednesday for Sunday's wild-card playoff game against the Titans.
By winning their past six games and 10 of the past 12, the Chargers are entering the postseason as the hottest team this side of New England.
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson said he is excited to see what his team can do.
But before embarking on what he hopes is a journey that produces his first career playoff win, he praised coach Norv Turner.
No one was getting more heat than Turner when the Chargers stumbled from the gate. The new coach had to endure boos from the home crowd and had to sit through chants clamoring for his predecessor, Marty Schottenheimer.
But Tomlinson, and other Chargers, said Turner never pushed the panic button. He stayed calm when everyone else was going sideways.
"He's really kept us focused," Tomlinson said. "Especially through times where we had some adversity and we needed to come back and win some games.
"He kept us thinking about what's ahead, knowing what we were capable of doing, even though it wasn't going good for us."
And some of that uncertainly came from Turner getting used to the players as much as they were blending with him. While Turner had grand plans -- and still does -- for the versatile and powerful offense, he emphasized the team's clear strengths to get the team back on track.
"Norv changed a little bit; he adjusted to the team," Tomlinson said. "He said, 'You know what, we are not doing this too good right now, but we know we can do this.' That is a great job on his part of adjusting as a coach."
Turner said the tough times were beneficial.
"I think the biggest thing this season has done for all of us, me and everyone, I think it's just brought us closer together," he said. "We have a feel for each other because of the start and what we've been through. I talked about it after the first Tennessee game (on Dec. 9). On the road, down by 14 in the fourth quarter, finding a way to come back and win, that's mental toughness to me. And I think our mental toughness has improved throughout the year, which allows us to handle a lot of things, football and non-football."
Now that toughness will tested in a playoff environment come Sunday.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson finished with 56 yards Sunday and 1,474 on the season to collect another accolade -- his second consecutive NFL rushing title. "This one has been more difficult than last year," said Tomlinson, the NFL's MVP in 2006."Things went our way last year, and we talked about that in the locker room. Not only me, but it seem like we breezed through the whole season. This year we had a lot of adversity and more difficulties, and for that it is a little more special because we really had to work for it. There were times where it just seemed like it wasn't going to happen."
--The Chargers offensive line, which took its fair share of shots earlier in the year, got extreme satisfaction when Tomlinson earned another rushing title. "That is what we hang our hat on," RG Mike Goff said. "You are measured in your day about how your quarterback and running back does. To block for a guy who has won two straight rushing titles is awesome."
--Home-field edge? The Chargers still had tickets remaining for Sunday's playoff game in San Diego.
--Tomlinson was headed to the bench after the Chargers were stopped when he heard a roar. It seems the animated Philip Rivers was goading the Raiders fans to cheer louder after he absorbed a sack. "I was wondering when I was sitting over there, 'Why are they booing and getting loud,'" Tomlinson said. "I look up on the jumbo screen and see Philip, and I'm like, 'There he goes again.'"
--Rivers said he's pleased that the Chargers aren't sitting the opening week of the playoffs. "I like the fact that we're going to play right now because we are playing good and we've got some momentum," he said. "We kind of have it out there laid for us. Sometimes you can get a little break and you can lose a little focus. I think we're as healthy as you can be just about. I know we've got some issues, but we're about as healthy as you can be at this time of the season, and we should be good to go."
--Coach Norv Turner set a career high with his 11th win of the season.
--The Chargers have defeated the Raiders nine straight times.
--The Chargers have lost four straight in the playoffs.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--FB Lorenzo Neal (broken leg) was holding out hope he could participate in the playoffs, but he is considered a longshot for this week's game, according to coach Norv Turner.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson padded his all-time highs against one opponent in Oakland. His numbers against the Raiders: attempts (357), rushing yards (1,709) and touchdowns (17).
--OLB Shawne Merriman had another sack Sunday to finish with a team-high 12.5. He's led the Chargers in all three years he has played.
--K Nate Kaeding (leg) is hoping to return to kickoff duties Sunday, but the team might go with Dave Rayner. Rayner handled the kickoffs in Oakland while Kaeding kicked three field goals.
--OLB Marques Harris, who recently had hand surgery, is on track to practice Wednesday and play Sunday after missing the Raiders game.
--OLB Shaun Phillips sprained his hand slightly Sunday, but he returned to the game and is fine.
--DT Jamal Williams (ankle, hip) will return to practice Wednesday and play Sunday after missing the final two regular-season games.