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Surprising San Diego 'ecstatic' to be in game

SAN DIEGO — A month ago, no one could have imagined the San Diego Chargers would be practicing on New Year's Day.

The Bolts were manhandled by the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 1, losing 17-10 to fall to 5-7.

The playoffs were a far-off dream.

And there the Chargers were on Wednesday, practicing on a sunny, 72-degree afternoon for their wild-card game Sunday at Cincinnati.

The Bengals were the last team to beat the Chargers, who have won four straight games.

"It's always better when you have a familiar opponent and you can see how players play, what we did wrong, what we did good," Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle said.

"Obviously it's going to be a tough challenge going into their place and trying to get a win, but we can't be more ecstatic with the opportunity we have as a football team. We surely missed this chance over the last three years. I know I have, so we can't wait to get on the road and go play a playoff game."

The Chargers haven't been in the playoffs since 2009, when they were 13-3 and earned the AFC's No. 2 seed before being embarrassed at home in a 17-14 loss to the New York Jets in the divisional round. Norv Turner was in his third year as San Diego's coach and LaDainian Tomlinson was in his ninth and final season with the Chargers.

Only six players remain from that team: Weddle, quarterback Philip Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, punter Mike Scifres, center Nick Hardwick and right guard Jeromey Clary.

San Diego hasn't won a playoff game since 2008, when it won its final four games and took advantage of a collapse by Denver to win the AFC West at 8-8. San Diego beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in overtime in a home wild-card game before losing at Pittsburgh.

To get another playoff win, the Chargers will have to play better than they did against the Bengals a month ago. Although that game was tied 7-7 at halftime, the Bengals dominated the second half. They finished with 164 yards rushing, held Rivers to just 252 yards passing, forced three turnovers and jumped on a big breakdown in coverage.

Weddle thinks the Chargers can do better against the run if they "just understand what they're doing, play physical, play tough, know what style of game it's going to be and tackle. We need to tackle better as a group," he said. "We'll be ready for that. I'm not too worried that we won't be able to stop the run. We should be able to get in there, battle, fight and see what happens."

Rivers, San Diego's other Pro Bowler this season, said the Chargers have to do a better job of finishing drives.

"I want to be very respectful because they had a lot to do with it," Rivers said. "They caused the turnovers and they covered us. Some of it may not have been the best throw. They certainly were out there causing us to not get in the end zone and our execution wasn't great. We've got to execute better. It's tough when you're going against a good defense."

Rivers mentioned the AFC championship game following the 2007 season, when San Diego lost 21-12 at New England.

"We kicked four field goals. You get a few touchdowns there and who knows. We know how valuable touchdowns are," Rivers said.