RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Harry How/Getty)
The Chargers said all along that it’s not how you start -- it’s how you finish. After 30 minutes of futility, the Chargers came out roaring in the second half, scoring 17 straight points and out-gaining the Titans, 257-70, en route to their first playoff win in 13 years.
San Diego’s 17-6 victory over the Tennessee Titans evoked memories of the Chargers’ Week 14 win at LP Field. The Chargers looked inept in the first half, gaining only 93 yards of total offense and averaging less than 1 yard per rush.
Philip Rivers was sacked on his first pass attempt and threw a costly end-zone interception to Cortland Finnegan. Nate Kaeding sailed a 45-yard field goal attempt wide right. All of the usual suspects were playing down to their reputations.
The Chargers heard a smattering of boos as they went into the locker rooms at half time; they came out of the break determined to silence them.
Rivers quickly started cooking with Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson. Chambers finished with six catches and 121 yards, his first 100-yard game since joining the Chargers. Jackson chipped in five catches, 114 yards and a touchdown, marking the first 100-yard game of his three-year career.
Both players stepped up to fill the void left by Antonio Gates, who was injured midway through the second quarter when DT Tony Brown dove on top of Gates as he lay prone on the turf. He will be iffy for next week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts.
"He'll be questionable," Norv Turner said. "It might be better than that; it might not be that good."
As the Chargers’ offense heated up, their defense began to lock the Titans down. The San Diego defense allowed only 70 yards and four first downs in the second half. On the day, the defense yielded just six points while forcing five three-and-outs.
The defense netted three sacks, with Shawne Merriman, Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire doing the honors. Merriman now has a sack in both of his career playoff appearances.
The Chargers also forced two turnovers. The first came with the Titans driving in the red zone, when Merriman stripped Chris Brown and Shaun Phillips jumped on the loose ball. The second takeaway sealed the win, as Drayton Florence picked off Young with 3:40 left in the game.
“You look at the second half, you look at some of the tweaks and adjustments our defensive coaches made to put players in the right position,” Castillo said. “Guys stepped up and made plays. Individual guys had great efforts and found a way to get a win.”
The Chargers will now hit the road to face the Colts (13-3). The Chargers have won two straight against the Indy, but they know that winning at the RCA Dome with a spot in the AFC Championship on the line is a whole different story.
“It’s a tough place to play and it’s going to be a tough game,” Quentin Jammer said. “We’re going to go up and try to continue doing what we do, putting pressure on the quarterback and trying to create turnovers.”
Southern California football fans are all too familiar with the “Bush Push,” when Reggie Bush pushed USC teammate Matt Leinart into the end zone for a game-winning score against Notre Dame in 2005.
If Brandon Manumaleuna had a name that was easier to rhyme, his play might have earned a similar moniker. Manumaleuna pushed Tomlinson into the end zone on the fourth-and-1 score in the fourth quarter after LT’s initial leap came up short.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.