EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 23: Tight end Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates with teammates Nick Hardwick #61 and wide receiver Danario Alexander #84 after making a touchdown catch during the third quarter and breaking the team's all-time receptions record in a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on December 23, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Chargers defeated the Jets 27-17. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
This is a Chargers team full of young players, many who have never been to the playoffs.
"I’ve been here for three years and it’s actually my first time making it out of the regular season," said defensive end Corey Liuget.
He's not alone. The Chargers let go of many veterans this season, and their roster is filled with guys who have only been in the league a few years, like Shareece Wright, Marcus Gilchrist and Kendall Reyes.
But amongst the youth movement sit six familiar faces: Philip Rivers, Nick Hardwick, Antonio Gates, Eric Weddle, Mike Scifres and Jeromey Clary.
These are the guys who have been together for ten years (Rivers, Hardwick, Scifres and Gates) or at least five (Weddle and Clary). This is the core of the locker room. The men who have tasted the playoffs -- (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009) -- and the men who have swallowed the bitterness of the postseason drought.
This group has been there before. This group knows how tough it is to get there.
"Oh my god, yes," Hardwick said after the Chargers beat the Chiefs Sunday. "It's so hard to make the playoffs. Things have to go your way, balls have to bounce your way, calls have to go your way. You have to play good football. At the end of the season, you have to be playing your best football. It's so hard.
"The young guys, they are going to be super excited, but the older fellas, they know how hard it is to make it and how exciting it is to be there."
Getting in is the first step. But winning is all that matters, Rivers said.
"Your ultimate goal is to always win a Championship," said the quarterback Monday. "You want to experience that with guys you have been through so much with. For that core group of players that is still here that has been through having the bye and losing at home and some of us that were here for the championship run. Then we were out for three years in a row. It's kind of like we are back. We are in it. We are alive. We have a chance. It is special."