Chargers keep composure as reserves lead way

INDIANAPOLIS -- The victorious players filed into the locker room one after another, hollering, "How about the Chargers?!"

Yes, how about the Chargers, especially ones the fans don't usually hear a lot about?

How about Michael "The Burner" Turner taking over for the injured LaDainian Tomlinson and bulling his way for 77 yards, essentially a $2.35 million insurance policy paying off?

How about speedy little Darren Sproles catching a screen pass from Philip Rivers and racing 56 yards untouched down the left sideline for a touchdown?

How about Billy Volek -- yes, Billy Volek -- coming in after Rivers was injured? Volek not only calmly led the winning drive, but he scored the go-ahead touchdown as well, on a 1-yard sneak with 4:50 to play.

How about this -- Chargers 28, Indianapolis Colts 24?

The Chargers kept their composure even as their star players were limping off the field, stunning last season's Super Bowl champions in the divisional round Sunday.

Their reward is a trip to face unbeaten New England in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday, the third time the Chargers will play the Patriots since the end of the 2006 season.

"Nobody ever flinched," said Rivers, who injured his right knee after releasing the touchdown pass to Sproles on the last play of the third quarter.

"No one seemed rattled," said Tomlinson, the two-time NFL rushing champion who had only 28 yards on seven carries. "Guys just kept playing. It was really amazing to watch, to be honest with you."

While the Chargers stood around in their huddle, waiting for play to resume after getting the ball on a punt early in the fourth quarter, left tackle Marcus McNeill and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates -- playing with a dislocated left big toe -- bounced along to the music blaring at the RCA Dome.

The Chargers led 21-17, and Volek was just taking over for Rivers.

"You've got to keep your cool," McNeill said. "We wanted to keep ourselves loose, especially when the game is on the line and it is crunch time. You don't want nobody playing uptight. You want everybody loose, flying around doing what they have to do.

"When we were bouncing around like that, everybody was feeling good, kind of gets your mind off of, 'Oh, we have to do this, we have to do that.' We just go out there and play."

The Chargers will be in the AFC Championship Game for the first time in 13 years. They stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-13 on Jan. 15, 1995, at Three Rivers Stadium. Two weeks later they were embarrassed 49-26 in their only Super Bowl by the San Francisco 49ers.

San Diego collapsed against New England in the playoffs last year, then were schooled 38-14 at Foxborough on Sept. 16.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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