SAN DIEGO (AP) — The postseason lights are coming back on for Shawne Merriman.
The San Diego Chargers outside linebacker, nicknamed "Lights Out" for his hard hits, is eager for Sunday's divisional game against the New York Jets.
Merriman missed almost all the 2008 season, as well as San Diego's two playoff games, as he rehabbed from reconstructive knee surgery.
"It was tough, man," Merriman said Friday. "It was one of the hardest things I had to do. My team made it without me, but I knew that I could be a big contributor out there. I know what I'm capable of bringing to a defense and what I'm capable of doing. So it kind of hurt that some of the things that happened, I wasn't able to go out and provide what I do best."
Without Merriman last year, the Chargers beat the Indianapolis Colts in overtime, then were manhandled in a loss at Pittsburgh.
This year, the Bolts (13-3) earned the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. They go into their opener with an 11-game winning streak.
Merriman was one of the Chargers who benefited most from the bye week. He had been bothered by plantar fasciitis and was held out of a win at Cleveland on Dec. 6 and also the regular-season finale on Jan. 3.
"I think the rest has been good," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "As you game-plan, there's not that uncertainty as to whether or not he'll be out there or how long he's going to be there, so I'm pretty excited about his opportunity to be onthe field."
Merriman wasn't as dominant this season as he rebounded from the knee surgery, then dealt with a groin injury and the plantar fasciitis. He finished with four sacks.
Still, he contributed to a Chargers defense that will face rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and a Jets rushing attack that's ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
"I did what I had to do for this defense to be successful," Merriman said. "I was asked to do something that was different for me from what I'm accustomed to doing, and I did it—drop more into coverage, playing with my hand in the dirt. It's not just line up on the edge and just come off the edge all the time. That was normally what my role was, just moving around, coming off the end. That's not the case here anymore. So I was asked to do something different, and I did."
It's been an interesting year for Merriman.
He was arrested just before the season started after reality TV star Tila Tequila accused him of choking her and throwing her to the ground while she was trying to leave his home in suburban Poway. Merriman said he was trying to keep her from driving drunk.
The district attorney's office declined to charge Merriman.
The arrest brought some unwanted attention in the week before the opener. General manager A.J. Smith reportedly isn't thrilled with Merriman's extracurricular activities. Merriman and Tequila have since sued each other.
There's been speculation the Chargers will let Merriman leave when he's eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.
Merriman said he's been strong enough to deal with the distractions, going back to his four-game suspension in 2006 for testing positive for steroids.
"People can't handle what I've had to deal with, and that comes from having great character. If you don't have that, you won't be able to survive," he said.
Now he and the rest of the Chargers defense have to deal with the Jets, who have the NFL's top-ranked running game.
The Jets have been fairly chatty this week. The Chargers have tried to cool the talk about this being their best chance yet to get to and win the Super Bowl.
"Here we've got a team in this locker room that is very focused, humble about winning, not saying much, that's eager to get on the field and play on Sunday," Merriman said. "It's going to be a battle."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.