INDIANAPOLIS -- If they can stun the Super Bowl champs without their star running back and starting quarterback, could the San Diego Chargers mess with perfection?
The QB in question, giddy Philip Rivers, believes it's possible after the Lightning Bolts' 28-24 shocker over the Indianapolis Colts yesterday at the RCA Dome.
For all the troubles they gave the Colts, the Chargers' reward is a shot at the New England Patriots in Sunday's AFC title game.
And Rivers, who stood on the sideline alongside superstar LaDainian Tomlinson for the most dramatic moments of yesterday's gripping upset, says bring it on.
"We all know what's next, probably the best team to ever play this game," said Rivers, who exited with a knee injury after the third quarter, giving way to unheralded career backup, Billy Volek.
"Seventeen have tried and it hasn't happened yet. We believe it can happen."
Other than in the southernmost corner of California, they may be the only ones with that much optimism.
The Patriots opened as 15-point betting favourites for Sunday's game at Foxborough to determine the AFC representative for the Super Bowl two weeks later in Arizona.
And with Rivers and Tomlinson both questionable and go-to tight end Antonio Gates hobbling on one leg yesterday as well, that might be generous to the underdogs.
The game will be a rematch of last year's divisional round win by the Patriots and a 38-14 pounding the Pats laid on the Chargers in Foxborough in Week 2 of this season.
"Nobody gave us any chance (yesterday) so what are they going to have us at next week?" Chargers guard Mike Goff said. "I think that helped us. I don't think anybody really expected us to come in and win so we said: 'Let's play hard and see what happens.' "
What happened yesterday was a fired-up team taking advantage of a defending champion squad that was soft on defence and made crucial mistakes at the worst times.
In each of the first three quarters, the Colts turned the ball over in scoring position -- a fumble by Marvin Harrison, who was making his first start in months, and two interceptions from Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
Then in the final four minutes, Manning took his offence downfield with a chance for a dramatic ending.
But with the heat from end Shawne Merriman and the rest of the Chargers defence, Manning couldn't muster the magic this time.
"Got down there, just couldn't finish it," said Manning, who started the game by completing his first 14 pass attempts in what was looking like a tuneup for a repeat of last year's thrilling AFC Championship against the Patriots.
"We have put a lot into this season and certainly it's disappointing."
Especially given the way the game began to unravel for the Chargers. Rivers hurt his knee on his final contribution, a 56-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles on the final play of the third quarter that gave the Chargers a 21-17 lead.
Tomlinson, the NFL's leading rusher for the second consecutive season, went down on a harmless looking play in the second quarter that helped set up the Chargers' first TD.
But in a game that had six lead changes in the last three quarters, the Chargers relied on their backups and a defence that hounded Manning relentlessly.
"That's the measure of a true team," said Tomlinson, who got to watch his understudy, Michael Turner, rush for 71 yards on 17 carries. "You've got to have guys step up. Today Billy Volek, Michael Turner and Darren Sproles all did that and the guys just kept on believing."
They'll do it for another week too, even if no one else joins in.