SAN DIEGO — To keep their improbable playoff run going, the San Diego Chargers will have to beat Peyton Manning in January for the third time in seven seasons.
The Chargers won 27-10 at Cincinnati on Sunday to earn a shot at Manning and the top-seeded Denver Broncos on Sunday, the first time the AFC West rivals have met in the postseason.
When Manning was with Indianapolis, the Chargers eliminated the Colts from the playoffs in the 2007 and ‘08 seasons.
Manning has beaten the Chargers three of four times since joining the Broncos, although the Chargers pulled a shocker in Denver last month.
“It’s tough to say you’re confident knowing what you’re going against. You don’t want to take that the wrong way,” Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle said Monday. “Do we believe we can win? Yes. Do we know what a tough challenge it is and how great we have to play? Yeah. It’s not just because it’s happened in the past it’s going to happen. You still have to play at a high level and do the things necessary as a team to win.”
The Chargers beat Manning and the Colts in a divisional playoff game after the 2007 season, with Weddle getting one of San Diego’s two interceptions. In 2008, the Chargers won the AFC West at 8-8 and hosted the Colts in a wild-card game, winning on Darren Sproles’ 22-yard run in overtime.
Until Sunday’s win in Cincinnati, that had been the Chargers’ last playoff victory.
“I’ve always appreciated and look forward to, as a fan of his growing up, to go against a Peyton Manning-led team,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “Obviously, I and our offense is playing that defense, so I’ve never felt like I was playing him, but it’s always awesome and exciting. The teams that we’ve both been on have had awesome games, and games have come down to the wire, overtime playoff games and our two games this year were really tight.
“I know they got a big lead in the first one, but we had a chance late, and we were able to win last time there. So it’s going to be what you’d expect, I’m sure. It’s going to be loud and it’s going to be what playoff football is meant to be.”
The Broncos beat the Chargers 28-20 in San Diego on Nov. 10. That came during a stretch of four losses in five games that dropped San Diego to 5-7.
The Chargers stunned the Broncos 27-20 at Denver on Dec. 12 during a four-game winning streak that, coupled with a lot of help from other teams, allowed the Bolts to sneak off with the AFC’s final playoff berth.
With Ryan Mathews running for 127 yards, the Chargers kept Manning on the sideline most of the game. When the Broncos had the ball, San Diego’s defense frustrated Manning.
So now the Chargers go back to Denver to face a record-setting offense led by Manning, who set NFL records with 55 TD passes and 5,447 yards through the air.
“Well, we have been the underdog all year,” Weddle said. “I have been the underdog my whole life, so it is no different. We are out to continue to believe in ourselves. The great thing about this team is the struggles and the ups and downs have really molded us into what we are right now, which is a confident belief in each other. We are going to stick by each other. We really have a sense and a belief that we are us and we could care less what the outside thinks of us.
“It’s great to be a part of, because we know everyone is focused on each other and getting better and ultimately to play the best we can. When you are worried about the outside, your play suffers and it clouds your mind a little bit. It has been a joy to be a part of this team and to see our growth. We have an ultimate challenge this week, but we are excited for it.”
Rivers said the Chargers need to remember how hard and well they played on both sides of the ball at Denver last month and how they capitalized inside the 20.
“All those things are the reasons we won. We didn’t just go in there and win. So it’s going to be hard,” Rivers said. “They’re a No. 1 seed for a reason. This is a heck of a team and it’s rare to play an opponent three times in a season and being a division opponent, one we know well, they know us well. It’s going to be awesome.”