RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Harry How/Getty)
The Chargers secured their second consecutive AFC West championship in emphatic fashion, handing the Detroit Lions their worst loss of the season, 51-14. The offense featured a pair of 100-yard rushers for the first time in team history, while the defense corralled five interceptions.
LaDainian Tomlinson set the tempo on the game’s opening drive, carrying five times for 43 yards and a touchdown. He chipped in another score before the first quarter was over, moving him past Walter Payton and Jim Brown on the all-time touchdowns list with 127.
LT has played in three games where the AFC West title was up for grabs; he combined for 330 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in those games.
“It feels good to win the division, especially after starting 1-3,” Tomlinson said. “I’m proud of this team. That’s four straight for us and we’re starting to roll.”
Darren Sproles replaced Tomlinson in the second half and ran wild. Sproles picked up his first 100-yard rushing game (122 yards on 25 carries) and his first two touchdowns from scrimmage. He nearly had an even bigger day, but a 56-yard touchdown reception was called back on a penalty.
Philip Rivers enjoyed a sharp outing, hitting 14 of 21 passes for 142 yards and a score. More importantly, he earned an early exit by spotting his team a 34-point lead after the first drive of the third quarter.
Rivers went without a turnover for just the fourth time this season. Much credit for that goes to the offensive line, as Rivers was knocked down only once and never sacked.
“We didn’t expect it to be this wide of a margin, but we felt if we could jump on them early we could stay in control and that’s exactly what happened,” Rivers said.
Chris Chambers delivered a clutch performance, catching four passes for 69 yards. Two of his catches came on third down, and all of them moved the chains. He also added 9 yards rushing via a reverse on the opening drive.
Never to be outdone, the Chargers’ defense caught more balls than Chambers. Five defenders picked off Jon Kitna, including Antonio Cromartie, who set a new franchise record with his tenth interception of the season.
Shaun Phillips’ second interception of the season carried no historical value, although he made the most of it by rumbling 18 yards for his first career touchdown.
The Chargers added one more turnover on special teams, when Tim Dobbins stripped Aveion Cason and Cromartie came up with it. The Chargers have a plus-19 turnover differential, tied with the New England Patriots for best in the league.
“We played great special teams, great run defense, we got six turnovers, and we were complete on offense,” Norv Turner said. “I’m excited about the way we played and excited about winning the division. As I’ve said all along, that’s the first step.”
The Chargers will be either the three or four seed in the AFC. They are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers at 9-5 and hold the conference-record tiebreaker (7-3 to 7-4). San Diego wraps up its regular season with two conference games, at home against the Denver Broncos and on the road versus the Oakland Raiders.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.