SAN DIEGO — No longer are they the surprising Chargers.
Nowadays, after four-straight losses, they are more like the hopeful Chargers.
If the playoffs were to start this week, the Chargers would not be in them in the aftermath of Sunday's 20-16 loss to Pittsburgh.
All of sudden, instead of talking about possible home advantage in the playoffs, the Charger coaches are talking about just trying to make the playoffs.
"When this season started, our goal was to improve as a football team and ultimately to become a playoff team," Chargers Coach Al Saunders said. "We have improved and we can still make the playoffs. It's important for us now to remain focused on our goals."
If the Chargers can beat Indianapolis Sunday and Denver next week, they'll qualify for the the playoffs.
"It's amazing to think with what's happened the last four weeks that we can still make it," said Dave Levy, offensive coordinator. "For us to mope around when we still have a chance would be insane."
Actually, Saunders was doing anything but moping when he met with the media Monday. Instead, he was encouraged by the Chargers' performance Sunday: They outgained the Steelers, 435-254, outrushed the Steelers, 114-104, and had more first downs, 27-14.
The only problem was that they also had five turnovers to the Steelers' one.
"We're not the most talented group in the National Football League," Saunders said. "We can't afford to make that many mistakes."
Mistakes such as an offside penalty on guard Dennis McKnight that wiped out a touchdown Sunday and three missed field goals by Vince Abbott.
As this season wears on, it is becoming apparent that the Chargers must play near-perfect football to win.
"After our losses to Seattle, Denver and Houston, there was a real sense of concern," Saunders said. "But we played well against Pittsburgh and we have to build on that for the next couple of weeks.
"We could turn into pessimists, but that's not our nature. We still have a chance to win our division. We're feeling down, but we're not out yet."
To become AFC Western Division champions, the Chargers must win their final two games, and Seattle must lose one of its remaining two games against Chicago and Kansas City. If the Chargers split their last two games and finish 9-6, both Seattle and Denver would have to lose their last two. If the Chargers win their last two, they will at least qualify as a wild-card team. The Chargers can also qualify as a wild-card team if they beat Indianapolis and each of the following happens: Houston loses to Pittsburgh this week, Buffalo loses to New England this week, Miami loses to Washington this week, and Pittsburgh beats Cleveland next week. In that case, San Diego could wind up 9-6 (if it loses to Denver) and would be tied with Cleveland (9-6) for the final wild-card berth. The Chargers beat Cleveland earlier this season . . . Don Macek suffered a torn calf muscle in his left leg and is listed as questionable for this week's game. If Macek is unable to play, guard Dennis McKnight will play center . . . The Chargers used the shotgun formation for the first time this season against Pittsburgh and had only moderate success. Dan Fouts completed 2 of 6 passes for 23 yards. Will the Chargers continue to use it? "I think it was good for us," said Dave Levy, offensive coordinator. "I wouldn't aid and abet the enemy by saying we would continue to use it but all things are possible."