WR Vincent Jackson (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)
Norv Turner got everything he wanted in his return to Oakland. The Chargers wrapped up the No. 3 seed in the AFC with a 30-17 drubbing of the rival Raiders. LaDainian Tomlinson secured his second consecutive rushing before taking another early exit. And the Chargers left the Coliseum without losing any players to injury.
The Chargers jumped on the Oakland Raiders early, quelling the buzz from JaMarcus Russell’s starting debut. Igor Olshansky sniffed out a screen on the first play from scrimmage, picking it off and becoming the 10th Charger defender to record an interception this season.
Philip Rivers made the most of the turnover, going 4-for-4 on the opening drive and capping it off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to LaDainian Tomlinson. Rivers finished the day 13-of-23 for 135 yards and two touchdowns. The pair of scoring strikes pushed his season total north of 20 for the second consecutive year.
Other than his touchdown catch, Tomlinson had a quiet day. He ran for 56 yards on 16 carries and checked out after the second offensive drive of the third quarter. It was more than enough to secure his second consecutive rushing title. Tomlinson finished the season with 1,474 yards, just 26 shy of his fourth 1,500-yard season.
One All Pro who fell just short of making history is Antonio Gates. The four-time Pro Bowler caught six passes for 62 yards but failed to score his 10th touchdown of the season. A score would have made him the first tight end in history with three seasons of 10-plus touchdowns.
Norv Turner kept Gates in the game late to give him a chance, but it never materialized. Billy Volek threw Gates a fade in the end zone with just over two minutes to play but Fabian Washington was able to break it up.
Gates finished just 16 yards short of his second 1,000-yard season. Chris Chambers also came up just short of four digits, adding 49 yards against the Raiders to run his season total to 970. Chambers did chip in his fourth touchdown since moving to San Diego, a 19-yard grab in the second quarter.
One player who got all the numbers he wanted is Jyles Tucker. The rookie from Wake Forest took advantage of the absence of Marques Harris (hand) to register a career-high three sacks. His second takedown was the most memorable, as he stripped Russell and recovered the ball in the end zone for his first career score.
Shawne Merriman also added a sack to run his season total to 12.5. The Chargers have at least four sacks in each of their last four games against the Raiders. The defense finished the regular season with 30 interceptions (No. 1 in the league) and 42 sacks (No. 5).
The defense endured a blemish as Raiders RB Dominic Rhodes piled up a season-high 122 yards on 29 carries. Much of that can be explained by the absence of Jamal Williams, who missed his second consecutive games due to ankle and hip injuries. Williams’ absence is considered cautionary and he is expected to play in the first round of the playoffs.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was newly acquired kicker Dave Rayner. The Raiders’ average starting position following kickoffs was the 33-yard line. The Chargers could consider releasing Rayner this week if Kaeding is once again fit to kick off, or if Mike Scifres is considered a better option.
Kaeding went 3-for-3 on field goals despite the injured lower leg. Scifres finished the season with a career-high 36 punts landed inside the 20-yard line and became the first punter in Chargers history to have a net average of 40 yards or more (40.0).
The Chargers finished the season 5-1 in the AFC West for the second consecutive year. They also finished 4-4 on the road, a nice recovery following a 1-4 start. The Chargers have won nine straight against the 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.