K Nate Kaeding (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
The Chargers haven't had too many more exciting wins lately than Sunday's. Not only did Nate Kaeding kick a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left for the margin of victory, but the Chargers clinched their fourth consecutive AFC West title.
The Chargers can enjoy all that -- for about 10 minutes.
Thanks to the NFL schedule gurus, they must hop on a plane Thursday and play in Tennessee the following day, Christmas.
"It's pretty tough, but the great thing about is they are coming off a short week, too," outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "So it makes the playing field even."
Phillips is among the Chargers nursing various bumps and bruises -- although his ankle is in the best shape it has been in weeks.
But he doesn't discount the toll of playing two such important games so close together.
"It's always hard from a physical standpoint, playing two games in one week," said Phillips, the team leader with seven sacks. "I'm pretty sure the fans would love if every team played two times a week. But the reality is it is a tough sport and it is pretty brutal on the body."
And with the tough Titans waiting, the Chargers know they are in for a demanding test.
The last time the Chargers went to Tennessee, the game resulted in four players being fined $32,500.
"They are a hot football team, they are looking good, and they really can run the ball," Phillips said. "We are expecting a great matchup with those guys, but we have to go worry about ourselves and worry about our business."
Coach Norv Turner mentioned how the Chargers will go easy in Monday's walkthrough and then work hard -- but not too hard -- over the next days. Getting his players rested is important to Turner, but doesn't mean as much to Phillips.
"No way -- being efficient is what is most important," Phillips said. "There is no one that is healthy right now in the league, and it is just the nature of the beast. It's just important to pay attention to the details and keep on practicing at a high intensity, and that transfers over to wins, whether it's the beginning of the season or the end of the season."
And it's what's after the regular season that continues to drive the Chargers. They are doing everything they can to snag the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC, and that means a committed effort in Nashville.
"Our focus in on the Tennessee Titans and going out and trying to get a first-round bye in the playoffs," Phillips said. "We understand the importance of it; we are still playing for it a lot, and again it is still a football game, and we play this game to do one thing, and that is to win."
--Coach Norv Turner said Nate Kaeding's range is as far as 60 yards in the situation the team was in Sunday. Kaeding was true from 52 yards for the win. "When I hit it, I knew it was good," Kaeding said.
It's been noticeable that Kaeding has more length on his kickoffs this year. How did he get stronger?
"I can bench maybe 155 instead of 135," he said.
--The Qualcomm Stadium crowd was off the noise meter Sunday, as loud as anyone could remember. It forced the Bengals into numerous false starts and delay-of-game penalties.
"I've never heard it that loud before like it was (Sunday)," Quentin Jammer said. "In eight years as a Charger, it was crazy to hear that. We are going to need that energy in the playoffs, and I hope the fans bring it."
--Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips is well aware of the task of slowing down the Titans' Chris Johnson.
"If he gets a little crease, he can go for the distance," he said.
--Turner said this year's AFC West title -- an unprecedented fourth straight for the organization -- is special because of all the injuries that forced the team's depth to produce.
"This year is different," he said. "We had so many guys who had to step up."
--C Scott Mruczkowski won't play this week after hurting his ankle in Sunday's win. "Mooch" was to undergo additional tests on his ankle, but he could be out for an extended period.
--C Nick Hardwick, who had ankle surgery after getting hurt in the opener, will try to practice this week. He has yet to return to game action.
--CB Quentin Jammer (knee) could be kept out of some practice snaps this week. He should be OK for Friday's game.
--DE Jacques Cesaire (elbow) is likely to go this week while wearing a brace.
--WR Vincent Jackson has gone over the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. The last Chargers wide receiver to do so was Anthony Miller in 1995 and 1996.
REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Philip Rivers wasn't as sharp as he has been through most of this nine-game winning streak -- he threw two picks Sunday, although one came on a tipped pass. But he was Mr. Cool in the final minute when he put the Chargers in position to win the game. Vincent Jackson had his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season as he continues to emerge as one of the game's best receivers. Antonio Gates had another stellar game, making moves after the catch that he hadn't made in years. Rivers got rocked a few times, but he was sacked only twice by an aggressive Bengals front.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Chargers still can't run the ball, plain and simple. LaDainian Tomlinson did average 3.7 yards a carry and did have a long of 13, but it's obvious the Chargers no longer look to their running game as a strength. LG Kris Dielman was pretty good on more than a few plays, and veteran C Dennis Norman came in at the last minute and didn't make a mistake.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- Carson Palmer had 314 passing yards and two touchdowns with just one pick. But the Chargers stiffened whenever the Bengals reached the red zone. San Diego didn't get much of a pass rush, with two sacks coming from Kevin Ellison and Alfonso Boone.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Chargers' defensive weak spot is stopping the running game, and why the Bengals didn't run more is a mystery. The Bengals rushed for 114 yards but no scores. The Chargers held up pretty well considering the patch-work defensive front.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Nate Kaeding's go-ahead kick from 52 yards out with three seconds remaining was clutch. Same goes for P Mike Scifres pinning the Bengals inside their 5 late in the game. The coverage unit had only one return it would like back. Darren Sproles showed a spark with a 45-yard kickoff return.
COACHING: A -- Few gave Norv Turner a shot at another AFC West title when the Chargers were sitting at 2-3 and 3 1/2 games behind the Broncos. But the Chargers claimed another division championship, and Turner deserves much of the credit. He spread the ball around to nearly every inch of the field Sunday; that led to Sproles being open for a critical underneath route to get the game-winning drive going. Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is starting to coach more and more the way Wade Phillips did -- bend and don't break. While the Bengals got their share of yards, they penetrated the red zone four times but had only one touchdown to show for it.