SAN DIEGO — Manti Te’o is ready for his first NFL playoff appearance.
He talks about not freezing, and it has nothing to do with the weather the San Diego Chargers could face in Cincinnati on Sunday.
He says he’s becoming the player he knows he can be.
The rookie linebacker had a season-high 11 tackles against Kansas City in the victory that ended the Chargers’ three-year playoff drought and propelled them into Sunday’s wild-card game against the Bengals, the last team to beat San Diego.
It was a strong finish to a year that started slowly because of a foot injury that sidelined the former Notre Dame star for the final three exhibition games and the first three regular-season games.
“It’s starting to get better,” Te’o said. “I’m starting to play my brand of football. I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m still not there. As you can see, I’m growing. I’m not as hesitant. I’m reacting more the way I want to. I’m more decisive. It all has to do with me understanding where I’ve got to be.”
Te’o had a lot to deal with when he came into the NFL. An All-American linebacker at Notre Dame, his draft stock fell after his poor showing in the BCS championship game loss to Alabama, followed by the revelation that he’d gotten fooled by a hoax involving a fake girlfriend.
The Chargers drafted him in the second round, but then he spent several weeks with his right foot in a walking boot after injuring it in the first exhibition game.
He didn’t make his debut until the fourth regular-season, a victory against Dallas. As the season progressed, he sometimes played well and sometimes looked lost.