Few people gave them a chance to get there when they were 5-7, yet everything has fallen their way, even if it took them overtime to beat short-handed Kansas City 27-24 on Sunday.
"It feels like this season is meant to be special," Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle said after another epic, heart-stopping win against the Chiefs gave the Chargers the AFC's final postseason spot. "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."
Nick Novak kicked a 36-yard field goal with 5:30 left in overtime to give San Diego its only lead of the day. The Chargers, who trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter, then held the Chiefs on downs to win it after they got into San Diego territory.
"We didn't play our best game, but teams that are playoff teams find a way to win when you don't play your best and that's what we did today," quarterback Philip Rivers said after the Chargers (9-7) won their fourth straight and for the fifth time in six games.
They'll play a wild-card game Sunday at AFC North champion Cincinnati, the last team to beat them, 17-10 at San Diego on Dec. 1.
The Chiefs (11-5) had nothing to play for, having already clinched the AFC's No. 5 seed, so they chose to rest 20 of 22 starters. They go into the playoffs having lost five of seven and play Saturday at AFC South champion Indianapolis, which won 23-7 in Kansas City last week.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
HELP: The Chargers have needed help from other teams for two weeks. Everything worked out for them again on Sunday, but not before the Chargers and their fans had to squirm a bit.
Miami and Baltimore both lost, meaning San Diego could clinch the No. 6 seed with a win or tie against the Chiefs.
Surprisingly, the Chargers trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter. Still, they kept getting new chances. After San Diego tied it by scoring 10 points on consecutive possessions, Kansas City's Ryan Succop was wide right on a potential game-winning, 41-yard field goal try with 4 seconds left in regulation. The Chargers got another break when the Chiefs called heads on the overtime coin toss, and it came up tails.
FAKE PUNT: The drive capped by Novak's overtime field goal was kept alive by a 2-yard gain by Weddle on a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from the Chargers 28.
"I just felt we could get 2 yards as a punt team with me running the ball and if we are going to go down, let's go down doing what we do best and that is being aggressive and fighting to the end," Weddle said. "And we just got enough and I'm glad we got it."
THE COMEBACK: With the Chargers on the verge of an embarrassing collapse against Kansas City's backups, Rivers threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal early in the fourth quarter and Novak kicked a 22-yard field goal to tie it with 3:21 left in regulation
"What a wild ride, all 16 games and it comes down to the last game," Weddle said. "A lot of people had us out but we stuck together in the locker room. It's the best team, morale, togetherness, that I have ever been a part of. It didn't look great at times in that game and now we are in the tournament. We can't wait to go to Cincinnati."
DAY OFF: Among the Chiefs sitting out were Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Alex Smith.
"I look at the positive of it," coach Andy Reid said of resting most of his starters. "We got a lot of guys in to get practice with the game plan if we do meet up with San Diego again. And the guys came out and played. You get to see, from a depth perspective, that you've got some guys who can play and want to compete."
FIRST HALF: The Chiefs led 21-14 at halftime, getting touchdown runs of 17 and 2 yards by Knile Davis and a 2-yard pass from Chase Daniel to Dexter McCluster following an interception by Rivers.
San Diego scored on Rivers' passes of 22 yards to Ladarius Green and 4 yards to Antonio Gates.