The Chargers met an emotional Bengals team yesterday that mirrored San Diego in many ways: its opportunism, refusal to give up and solid play from big-name and no-name players. San Diego displayed its supreme confidence and force of will that had commentators Jim Nance and Phil Sims talking about that "special energy" that propels a team to the Super Bowl. You couldn't help but notice it in the inspired play of the Steelers at the end of the season and in the playoffs last year. The Chargers have that magic.
While the Chargers were the superior team, the game was close for a few reasons. Carson Palmer played his best game, making some brilliant throws under pressure. His receivers backed him up with stellar catches in traffic and on the sidelines.
The crucial play that kept the game from getting away from the Bengals was the tipped pass by Antonia Gates that turned into an interception, leading to a Bengal score. At 24-13 in the third quarter before that interception. If the Chargers continue down the field and score, the game is out of reach. However, like the Chargers, the Bengals were determined at able to capitalize on that mistake.
In the Bengals final drive of the game that led to the field goal that tied the game, Ron Rivera became extra conservative, fearing a long pass to Ochocinco for a touchdown. The absolute lack of pressure on Palmer allowed the Bengals to easily move down the field for the go ahead score.
Malcolm Floyd deserves special recognition for getting smacked in the grill on the first drive of the game, then coming back to make the crucial catch that set up Kaeding for the game winning score.
Rivers, despite one big mistake, was again brilliant. The combination of Rivers' field sense, Norv's play calling scheme, and the athleticism of the Chargers' tall receivers is unbeatable right now.
I know the Union Tribune folks are worried about the Titans this Friday, as the they should be, however, I think perhaps the Titans should be more worried about the Chargers. It's official, the Chargers have the best shot at the Super Bowl they've had since '94 when they actually went.