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Chargers greatly frustrating, exhilarating

They're making us believe in spite of their many flaws.

The Chargers are the child you're livid with for endangering themselves with repeated foolishness, but you love them so much and they're so darn delightful that you hug them and end up laughing together until you're crying and shaking.

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Or perhaps you just sit there in awe, almost not believing what has happened.

After Nick Novak's 40-yard field goal a little less than five minutes into the overtime period split the uprights, giving the Chargers a 38-35 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night at Levi's Stadium, Chargers players and coaches sprinted onto the field.

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Cornerback Brandon Flowers, who at one point had left the game with an ankle injury, raised his hands to the sky before being embraced by quarterback Philip Rivers, who was intercepted three times but also engineered two touchdown drives in the final nine minutes of regulation.

U-T sports columnist Kevin Acee and U-T Chargers beat writer Michael Gehlken break down the Chargers 38-35 come-from-behind win over the 49ers in Santa Clara.

"Great teams have great efforts when the game is on the line," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. "How else do you explain being down 28-7 and 35-21 and to find a way to win?"

It was not a great game, but you can't argue the Chargers have found great ways to win, perhaps even enough to actually make the postseason.

Yes, almost as unbelievably as it was they had been embarrassed for so much of the game, the Chargers (9-6) are now very much alive in their quest to make the playoffs.

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A victory next Sunday in Kansas City and the right result in a game or two elsewhere would give them one of the AFC's two wild card spots.

It's far from a certainty. But who'd bet against the Chargers at this point.

They quite simply had no right to even be close Saturday, let alone win.

Not after their defense was steamrolled and sliced open for so much of the game's first 45 minutes. Not with their physically hurting and seemingly mentally frazzled quarterback playing so poorly. Not with one of their starting cornerback and two of their starting offensive linemen being knocked from the game – adding to the litany of injuries that have made them a shell of the team that began the season 5-1.

San Francisco had been eliminated from the postseason race a week earlier and is closing out a season of turmoil. Immediately Saturday, however, the 49ers looked like the team with something on the line.

San Francisco running back Frank Gore evaded three tackles en route to a 52-yard touchdown run a little more than 90 seconds in. A half-minute into the second quarter, he had 105 total yards. Three minutes after that, the 49ers took a 21-0 lead.

The Chargers got to within 28-21 with a sack, forced fumble and recovery in the end zone in the third quarter. But two plays later, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick evaded two would-be tackles behind the line of scrimmage and then ran 90 yards untouched to the end zone.

The 49ers would not score again.

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The Chargers would commence a revival that 11-year veteran Malcom Floyd said "was the greatest comeback I've ever been a part of."

That's how the Chargers do it.

The last time they'd won, back on November 30, three games prior, it took two touchdown drives in the final six minutes. The Chargers led just the final 38 seconds of that 34-33 victory in Baltimore.

Saturday, it was practically inconceivable they would ever lead. It seemed more likely they would suffer an historic rout.

Instead, they turned a 28-7 halftime deficit into 28-21 and then 35-21 to start the fourth quarter into 35-35 with 29 seconds remaining.

In overtime, Weddle, who did not have his best night, forced a fumble that Sean Lissemore recovered at the Chargers' 38-yard line. Eight plays later, the Chargers were in position for Novak's game-winner.

Rivers complimented the defense afterward for its closing ability. He was critical of his own play. As head coach Mike McCoy said afterward, "We made every mistake you could possibly think of in the first half."

Players recalled linebacker Jarret Johnson on the sideline hollering that the game was not over. Rivers recounted overhearing a defense that had already allowed 263 yards and three touchdowns committing at halftime to go out and give its all.

"We talked about it on offense," Rivers said. "We said, 'We don't know if we were going to win the game or not, but we're going to fight like crazy to see what happens.' That's who we are."

Yes, it appears to be who they are. Maddeningly so.

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