The goal during the past five days for the Chargers was to make things as normal as possible.
Forget the shortened week, forget the cold weather, forget the lights on Saturday night. It’s just a football game — one of 16.
“If you’re preparing differently now, you’ve been cheating your teammates the last  weeks,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said.
Those are words that’ll be useless once Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City comes into sight on the team’s bus ride to its biggest game in three seasons.
Chargers safety Jahleel Addae — who was with the Chargers in 2014 when a loss to Kansas City in the season finale cost them a playoff spot — said the game between the AFC West’s co-leaders shouldn’t be put on a pedestal.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing — play ball, stick to our keys, don’t make it bigger than what it is,” he said. “We know it’s a big game, but we can’t worry about that. We’ve got to play our ball.”
Same as always, right?
“You can’t be oblivious to it. Nah. It’s gonna be live,” Addae said. “It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere, playoff intentions in a crazy atmosphere, one of the best stadiums in the league. It’s two opponents who know one another. It’s going to be what it is. It’ll have that feel to it. This is what you live for.”
Saturday’s prime-time game between the Chargers and the Chiefs is certainly, at minimum, what NFL players grind for.
“That’s the purpose of all the hard work and the sacrifices you make … you want to be in this position in December,” veteran tight end Antonio Gates said.
The two teams are 7-6, and with just two games left after this week, this is pretty close to an elimination game. If the Chargers were to lose, they’d have to win their final two games, the Chiefs would have to lose theirs and L.A. would need help from Oakland to win the AFC West.
A loss doesn’t slam the door on a wild-card spot, though those scenarios again get convoluted, with the control falling out of the Chargers’ hands.
The team has a simpler plan.
“Every week has been a playoff game for us. We have to win out,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “Even if we’re fortunate enough to win this game on Saturday, we still have to win out to keep our spot. So it’s a similar situation for us that we’ve been in all year long.”
The team’s 0-4 start — which included a loss to the Chiefs — put it closer to “must-win” territory with every subsequent loss.
After the Chargers blew a game in Jacksonville, the margins for error shrank.
Luckily for the Chargers, after the Chiefs started the season with five straight wins they went 1-6 in their next seven games before beating Oakland last week.
“I remember having the thought that at 0-4, ‘Hey, let’s not worry about the division. Let’s just try to claw back and see if we can get into the mix in December’ because you didn’t see it coming,” Rivers said of the Chiefs’ slump.
But here the Chargers are, in a position they did not hold their last two seasons in San Diego.
Rivers and his teammates expect Arrowhead Stadium to be rocking, an entire day full of anticipation and partying before the late local kickoff. In preparation, the Chargers practiced with recorded crowd noise.
“Being able to communicate — whether it be changing the play with the protection or the route combinations, any adjustments that we’re making — to make sure we’re on the same page,” Rivers said. “Something always for me in those environments, is being aware of the clock. You’ve got to be aware of the play clock. If you’re going to make adjustments, they take a little bit longer. You’ve got to communicate it a little different than you do when you’re at home.”
Five yards could matter. Five feet could matter. Hell, in the Chargers and Chiefs’ position, five inches could matter. A win for the Chargers would be their best of the season and rocket them as close to the playoffs as they’ve been in three seasons.
This will be new territory for most of the Chargers. No matter what’s been said, it won’t be a normal game.