Bolts Are Back in Playoffs After Drought

Friday, January 7th 2005, 7:03 pm
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ The San Diego Chargers are back in the playoffs, having ended one of their characteristic long postseason droughts _ the latest lasted eight seasons _ and will host the wild-card New York Jets in prime time on what could be a very wet Saturday night.

``I hope we can continue and get to our ultimate goal, which is the Super Bowl,'' Chargers linebacker Donnie Edwards said.

Edwards' teammates, pro Bowlers Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, who powered a high-scoring, exciting offense, will be making their playoff debuts. Edwards will play in just the second postseason game in his nine-year career, the first having come seven seasons ago with the Chiefs.

Tackle Roman Oben and wide receiver Keenan McCardell will play on the same field where they helped Tampa Bay win the Super Bowl two years ago.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who helped turn the Chargers from a 4-12 laughingstock into AFC West champions at 12-4, will be looking to do something about that 5-11 postseason record of his.

And the bandwagon has never been fuller.

``I think it's awesome. Everyone is really on a high,'' Edwards said. ``It's been a long time since we gave the Chargers fans something to have pride in and be excited for. I know a lot of guys who have been sitting on their Chargers hat and not really wearing it.

``If you go out in the community now, there are bumper stickers, there's flags out there. The fans are strong and they're loud, and I'm just really happy to have them back.''

Back on Sept. 19, the Chargers looked anything like a playoff team when they lost 34-28 to the Jets. Curtis Martin ran for 119 yards and scored on the Jets' first two possessions. Brees had two interceptions, lost a fumble and sustained a concussion.

``That game feels like it was five seasons ago,'' said Brees, who finished the season with 27 TD passes and just seven interceptions. ``I think we've come so far. At that time in the season, we hadn't really found ourselves, and now we have. We started a great win streak and we want to start another win streak.''

The Chargers found themselves shortly after that loss and won 11 of their last 13 games, including eight straight. Even when Tomlinson was slowed with a strained groin, Brees kept the Chargers going by connecting with Gates and later McCardell, obtained at the trading deadline.

The Jets certainly have noticed.

``The whole town, when we played them, it's kind of reverse,'' said coach Herman Edwards, whose son, Marcus, is a receiver at San Diego State. ``When we played them, they could not sell enough tickets and the game was blacked out. And now it's sold out, everyone is wearing Chargers jerseys.''

Brees emerged from his own team's scrap heap to be named Comeback Player of the Year. Tomlinson, who led the league with 17 rushing TDs, and Gates, who set the NFL record with 13 touchdowns by a tight end, were named All-Pro.

Brees and the Chargers don't think it's likely the Jets can pull off another victory in San Diego.

``Considering that we are night and day a different team from then till now, I think it's going to be very hard for them,'' Brees said. ``They're a good team, they know how to win, they won a lot of games. So have we.''

The Jets started 5-0 and then went 5-6 the rest of the way, in part because quarterback Chad Pennington missed three games with a rotator cuff injury and hasn't thrown well since returning.

The Jets don't care that they backed into the playoffs, losing last week to St. Louis but clinching a berth when Buffalo also lost.

``The point is that we're in,'' said Martin, the NFL rushing champion with a career-high 1,697 yards and 12 touchdowns. ``We won 10 games. There are a lot of teams that didn't win 10 games. Winning 10 games in this league isn't easy. If it was then a lot of teams would have done it.''

New York's defense is shaky. The Jets allowed St. Louis' Marc Bulger to pass for 450 yards in a 32-29 overtime loss on Sunday. Defensive end John Abraham has missed four games with a sprained knee and is listed as questionable for Saturday, along with receiver Wayne Chrebet.