SAN DIEGO (AP) — Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers twice had their playoff destiny in their own hands. They still ended up missing the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons.
Losing at home to New England and Denver on consecutive weeks was one thing, although it proved the Chargers couldn't hang in there with the AFC's elite teams.
Getting handled by the division rival Kansas City Chiefs on the final day of the regular season was another thing, because all the Chargers (9-7) had to do was win and they would have been in the postseason.
"What we have is a pretty good team," star tight end Antonio Gates said. "We are a playoff team. Everybody knows that. Teams that had an opportunity to play against us, they know. Denver knows. Those games are coming down to one or two plays. We've just got to be able to make those plays. We've got to be a better situational football team."
The Chargers' final stretch was at times riveting and at times illustrated how much work they still have to do.
Rivers brought the Chargers back from a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes for a win at Baltimore. He rallied the Bolts to an overtime win at San Francisco after the Chargers fell behind by 21 points in a dismal first half.
In between, though, were the home losses to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. The Chargers scored only one offensive touchdown in each of those games, as they did in the 19-7 loss at Kansas City that saw the Bolts fail to repeat the playoff trip they made last year.
"It's tough, because you've got to constantly build on what you have," Gates said. "We have a great foundation, great players, great coaching staff. It's just up to us to build on it. Obviously this year didn't go the way we liked. We were one game away from making the postseason. I've got all the confidence in the world that the foundation has been put in place and will eventually succeed in due time."
Earlier, the Chargers won five straight games, including against defending Super Bowl champion Seattle. They then lost three straight, including a 37-0 pratfall at Miami.
"It was a heck of a year in a lot of ways," Rivers said. "A lot of highs, some lows, and ultimately it ends on a low, and that's disappointing. But we fought like crazy. At the end it wasn't good enough. But the effort and fight and togetherness and the team was there every Sunday."
Here are some things to remember about the Chargers' season:
RIVERS: The QB played through chest and back injuries. As usual, coach Mike McCoy bristled whenever asked about them, and Rivers declined to divulge much information. Rivers didn't rule out needing offseason surgery on his back injury, although he said reports he had a bulging disc in his back were "not exactly accurate." Rivers said discussing his injuries would be self-serving, and then added: "My injuries had nothing to do with whether I threw it good or threw it bad." Still, Rivers threw seven interceptions in the final three games, including two in the loss at Kansas City, when he also lost a fumble. He finished the season with 4,286 yards, 31 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He had seven more interceptions than during his bounceback season of 2013.
BEST QB-TE COMBO EVER: Gates caught 12 touchdown passes from Rivers, giving the duo 72, the most in NFL history between a quarterback and tight end.
NOT MUCH RUNNING BY RYAN: Oft-injured Ryan Mathews, among the big-name Chargers who will be eligible for free agency, was limited by knee and ankle injuries to only six games, his fewest in five seasons with the Bolts. He had 330 yards, second on the team to Branden Oliver, an undrafted rookie who ran for 582 yards and three scores. Due to his lack of durability, Mathews likely will be allowed to leave as a free agent.
CENTERS: Due to injuries, the Chargers started five different centers. Veteran Nick Hardwick was knocked out of the opener with a season-ending stinger. Rich Ohrnberger started seven of the next nine games before he went on IR with a back injury. Doug Legursky started two games before going on IR with a knee injury. Rookie Chris Watt started five games before getting knocked out with a calf injury and Trevor Robinson started the season finale.
DWIGHT FREENEY: If this was the last season of Freeney's stellar career, at least he went out with a sack in the loss at Kansas City. Freeney, who turns 35 in February, finished his second season with the Chargers and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. He played in all 16 games after having his 2013 season cut short by injury after just four games. He had 3½ sacks this season, giving him 111½ for his career.
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