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PREVIEW: Chargers ready to battle Bengals

Chargers defensive end Kendall Reyes, left, reacts after a defensive stop during a regular season game against the Chiefs. (Reuters)

Chargers defensive end Kendall Reyes, left, reacts after a defensive stop during a regular season game against the Chiefs. (Reuters)

My, what a difference a month makes.

When last seeing the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 1, the San Diego Chargers had just been defeated 17-10 to go two games under .500 at 5-7. The Bengals left San Diego with a win while listening to most declare the Chargers for dead.

Today when the Chargers (9-7) take the field at Paul Brown Stadium, they will be returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

The Chargers needed plenty of help to flip their season, but don’t overlook what they did: winning four straight games after failing to give up on a season in which most others had already toe-tagged.

“It’s been a real long time,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said about the team’s three-year playoff-free rut. “It feels great to be back in, especially because the season ends early and it makes for a longer offseason. Even in the cases we have been in, we obviously had the one run, but even when it’s just extended a week in those other years, you gave yourself a chance. That’s what we have done here and we have tough road ahead starting this week, but we are fired up.”

Fired up, ready to go and familiar with the Bengals after battling them just one month ago.

“You have a good idea of what they have done,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “We studied them not long ago. Teams are going to put certain wrinkles in. As the season goes on and you get into the playoffs or play a team for the second time, they are going to have some changes.”

But not wholesale changes, McCoy said. That goes for the Chargers, too.

“The foundation is in place; it is the same thing for us,” McCoy added. “Our foundation has been laid here. We are going to do what we do best, like the other team does. There is always going to be that wrinkle here and there, but it does help you a little bit to understand what they do.”

It’s still hard, for some, that the Chargers are still playing into January. Not only did they need to win their final four games, but they needed the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins to stumble as well. Not to mention Kansas City Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missing a field goal in the waning seconds of what would be an overtime win for the Chargers in the regular-season finale last Sunday.

“Did we get a few breaks, yes,” Rivers admitted. “But, I don’t think for one bit we were given anything. Absolutely not. We fought like crazy to stay alive all year and we fought like crazy to earn these last four.”

They have earned a rematch with the Bengals. Now in a different month, they seek a different result.