Call it a 'Mission Bay Miracle' as Chargers reach playoffs

Welcome to Stunned Diego.

Not even the most optimistic of Chargers could have realistically predicted what unfolded Sunday, the final day of the NFL regular season, when left-for-dead San Diego somehow found its way into the playoffs.

A month ago, the Chargers were 5-7 and roundly written off. Then came a four-game winning streak culminated by a season sweep of the Chiefs.

"It's been an unreal ride this year," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said in a postgame interview with CBS, his voice cracking. "We haven't been in the postseason in a long time. It's awesome to find a way to get in. . . . Percentage-wise, we went and did the math, we were under a 1% chance two weeks ago. And we're in."

The Chargers will play at Cincinnati on Sunday. The first AFC game is Saturday when Indianapolis plays host to Kansas City.

In the NFC, New Orleans plays at Philadelphia on Saturday night, and San Francisco plays at Green Bay on Sunday afternoon.

The Packers and Eagles qualified with division title-clinching victories in win-or-go-home games Sunday.

Three of the four first-round pairings are rematches, with only the Saints and Eagles squaring off against each other for the first time this season.

The Saints-Eagles game features quarterbacks Drew Brees of New Orleans and Nick Foles of Philadelphia.

Astoundingly, both Brees and Foles attended the same high school, Westlake High in Austin, Texas.

As for the Chargers, everything broke in their direction Sunday, as they got essential losses by Baltimore and Miami that set up a win-and-they're-in scenario against Kansas City.

Rivers conceded the Chargers kept the locker room TVs on longer than usual before their game, so by kickoff they knew the stakes had gotten significantly higher.

"We knew," he said. "And then we shifted our focus to say, 'Hey, look, now we've got to do our part.' We didn't do our part for three and a half quarters, but we did what he had to do to win."

Even though Kansas City rested its star players — among them quarterback Alex Smith and running back Jamaal Charles — the Chargers struggled mightily. They almost lost at the end of regulation on a Ryan Succop field-goal attempt, but the kick from 41 yards sailed wide right.

That was a bitter outcome for Pittsburgh, which would have gotten that No. 6 seed had San Diego lost.

In overtime, the Chargers kept their opening drive alive with a fake punt, and capped it with a 36-yard field goal by Nick Novak. Then it was up to San Diego's defense to slam the door. The Chiefs crossed midfield but wound up turning the ball over on downs, ending the game.

"It feels like this season is meant to be special," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. "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."

And this curious stat could be an omen: The last four Super Bowl champions played at Philadelphia in the Eagles' home opener — New Orleans, Green Bay, the New York Giants and Baltimore.

Whom did the Eagles play in their home opener this season?

San Diego, naturally.

Black Sunday night

Most postseason firings occur on the day after the season ends — known as "Black Monday" — but the Cleveland Browns couldn't wait.

They fired Rob Chudzinski after a season-ending loss to Pittsburgh, ending his tenure after one 4-12 season. That news came after the New York Jets announced Rex Ryan would be back for a sixth season.

While it's unusual to give a coach just one year, it's not unprecedented. Mike Mularkey got only a year as Jacksonville's coach last season, and before him Oakland's Hue Jackson and Seattle's Jim Mora were one and done.

"We needed to see progress with this football team. We needed to see development and improvement as the season evolved and, unfortunately, we took a concerning step backward in the second half of the year," the Browns said in a statement that announced the firing.

Pittsburgh has had three coaches since 1969. Cleveland will have had three coaches since 2012.

Among the other coaches who could be fired Monday are Detroit's Jim Schwartz, Washington's Mike Shanahan, Tennessee's Mike Munchak, Oakland's Dennis Allen, Minnesota's Leslie Frazier and Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano.

Broken record

Another Sunday, another broken record for Peyton Manning.

In throwing for 266 yards against Oakland, Manning set the NFL single-season record for yards passing with 5,477 — one more than Brees had when he set the record in 2011.

Manning also threw four touchdown passes, extending to 55 the NFL single-season record he broke last week.

He is the first player to set records in both yards passing and touchdowns since Miami's Dan Marino in 1984.

We're (sort of) No. 1

The Houston Texans are best at being the worst.

They locked up the first overall pick in the 2014 draft Sunday with a 16-10 loss at Tennessee, meaning they lost their final 14 games — along with coach Gary Kubiak, who was fired Dec. 6.

The No. 2 pick goes to St. Louis via Washington. The Redskins traded that pick to the Rams as part of the 2012 deal to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III. So the Rams traded the No. 2 pick two years ago and received Washington's picks in the first round (sixth) and second round (39th) in 2012, first (22nd) in 2013 . . . and the No. 2 pick in May.

Not a bad deal for St. Louis.

In the bag

Carolina is the first team since the 2003 Eagles to earn a first-round bye despite starting the season 0-2. An improved defense was partly responsible for that, and the Panthers recorded a franchise-record nine sacks in a 21-20 victory at Atlanta that locked up the NFC South and the No. 2 seed.

The Carson Show

Arizona didn't make the playoffs, but Carson Palmer surpassed the 4,000-yard passing mark. He's the first player to throw for at least 4,000 yards with three different NFL teams.

No place like home

The No. 1 seeds are Denver in the AFC and Seattle in the NFC.

They get a week off, and though they don't know yet who they will play in the divisional round, the possible matchups are intriguing.

Denver will play San Diego, Kansas City or Indianapolis — either an AFC West foe, or a rematch between Manning and his old team.

Seattle will play host to Green Bay, New Orleans or San Francisco. The Seahawks are a combined 4-0 against those teams in Seattle during the last two seasons.

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer


Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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