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Chargers

Chargers topple Broncos, will open playoffs in Baltimore

DENVER, CO, SUNDAY DECEMBER 30, 2018 - Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa sacks Broncos quarterbacl Ca
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa sacks Broncos quarterback Case Keenum during a second quarter drive at Mile High Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers won their seventh road game in eight tries Sunday and were rewarded in the most appropriate way possible for a bunch still trying to establish its home — with another road game.

The potentially biggest day of the season for the Chargers gradually but undeniably dissolved into one that didn’t really matter at all.

Their 23-9 victory over Denver ultimately had no impact on their postseason fate as Kansas City also won, beating Oakland 35-3.

The Chargers and Chiefs both finished 12-4 — the top record in the AFC West and in the conference — but by owning the tiebreaker, Kansas City earned the division title and a No. 1 seed in the AFC.

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So, it’s back on the team plane for the Chargers, who enter the playoffs seeded fifth and play at Baltimore at 10 a.m Sunday.

This franchise will experience its first postseason game since January 2014 at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens and their fans will most assuredly be ready.

“I can’t speak for everybody else, but I know Virgil Green thrives in hostile environments,” tight end Virgil Green said. “I want you talking to me. I want you saying bad things to me. I always say, ‘You’re talking sexy to me.’”

The NFL’s reigning frequent-flying champs won’t fret about the prospect of having to succeed on foreign turf.

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In going 7-1 away from StubHub Center this season, the Chargers won in places as close as Oakland and as far away as London. They won at Seattle, Pittsburgh and Kansas City before winning here, for the first time since 2013.

They matched New Orleans — the NFC’s No. 1 seed — for the best road record in the league and were one of only four AFC teams to finish above .500 away from home.

“I think we’ve proven we’re a resilient, persistent team and that being on the road doesn’t bother us,” left tackle Russell Okung said. “I think that speaks to our character and who we are.”

The Chargers are in the playoffs for the second time as a team representing Los Angeles but will be 58 years removed from that previous appearance.

In their inaugural season, the L.A. Chargers finished 10-4 and then lost on Jan. 1, 1961, in the AFL championship game to the Houston Oilers.

They moved to San Diego before the start of the next season and remained there until returning to L.A. in 2017.

After two regular seasons at their temporary home in Carson, the Chargers continue to struggle trying to make footprints in a market that has been slow to embrace them, playoff qualifiers and all.

“We get a little chatter here and there,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “They pump us up a little bit and then something bad happens and it’s ‘same old Chargers.’ We don’t really listen to it. All we know is fight.”

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Now, to be accurate, the Chargers definitely have reason to squirm about who they play on their next trip.

This wild-card weekend date will be a rematch from Dec. 22, when Baltimore came into StubHub Center and won 22-10 behind a defense that continually hounded quarterback Philip Rivers.

The Ravens limited the Chargers to season lows in total yards (198) and points and made an offense that has been among the NFL’s most productive and efficient visibly uncomfortable.

“I want Baltimore,” defensive tackle Damion Square insisted. “We got Baltimore. See ya’ll in Baltimore.”

Against the Ravens, the Chargers will have to find what they lost offensively in the first meeting — and didn’t rediscover Sunday.

Their regular-season finale again was an exercise in sluggishness. Rivers ended two of the Chargers’ first three possessions with interceptions.

After being picked off only six times through the first 13 games, the veteran quarterback threw six interceptions over the final three games.

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“Some of those same throws were big, explosive plays for us early in the year,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “Now, we’re not making those plays. We have to make better throws. We have to go up and challenge for balls and make plays.”

For the second consecutive week, the Chargers didn’t convert a third down until the third quarter. They were outgained by a Denver offense riddled by injuries. Rivers completed only 14 passes for a season-worst 176 yards.

Gordon, in his second game back after being sidelined because of a sprained right knee, rushed 10 times for 42 yards. He was limping by the end Sunday but afterward said he was fine. At least physically.

“That’s not us,” Gordon said. “We didn’t play like us today. This counts now. It’s win or go home. I don’t expect to see again what you saw today.”

It wasn’t pretty but, like the regular season, it’s over now.

A Chargers team bent on proving it can be right at home away from home knows as well as any that looks don’t matter.

“It’s all about winning,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “If we can win ugly all the way to the Super Bowl, it don’t matter to us. We just want to win.”

jeff.miller@latimes.com

Twitter: @JeffMillerLAT


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