Charging to the front

Tomlinson leads San Diego to division title

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2004


  San Diego Chargers' LaDanian Tomlinson runs for 20 yards against Cleveland Browns defender Lewis Sanders, left, in the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004, in Cleveland. Trailing the play is Chargers' Kassim Osgood (81). Tomlinson rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns as the Chargers won 21-0. AP Photo/Mark Duncan

San Diego Chargers' LaDanian Tomlinson runs for 20 yards against Cleveland Browns defender Lewis Sanders, left, in the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004, in Cleveland. Trailing the play is Chargers' Kassim Osgood (81). Tomlinson rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns as the Chargers won 21-0.

AP Photo/Mark Duncan

CLEVELAND — The San Diego Chargers have turned it all the way around.

LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns, Antonio Gates tied a record with his 12th TD of the season and San Diego captured the AFC West title on Sunday, sliding through the snow for a 21-0 win over the Cleveland Browns.

One season after they were a league-worst 4-12, the Chargers (11-3) won their eighth straight and earned their first postseason berth since 1995. They're also division champions for the first time since 1994, clinching the top spot when Denver lost 45-17 in Kansas City.

San Diego, which has its longest winning streak since 1987, ignored the blowing snow, a game-time temperature of 18 and a subzero wind chill to post their first shutout since 1993 and easily handle the Browns (3-11), who lost their eighth straight.

Tomlinson scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, his 15th and 16th TDs this season, and Gates tied a league single-season record for TD catches by a tight end with a 72-yarder in the second quarter.

The shutout was the Chargers' first since Nov. 29, 1993, a 31-0 win over Indianapolis.

Eagles 12, Cowboys 7

PHILADELPHIA — Dorsey Levens' 2-yard touchdown run with 1:57 left helped Philadelphia clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

But the win was costly for Philadelphia, which lost star wide receiver Terrell Owens to an ankle injury. Owens didn't return after spraining his right ankle early in the third quarter.

Philadelphia plays its first playoff game on Jan. 15 or 16.

The Eagles (13-1) set a franchise record for regular-season victories. They've finished first in the conference three straight years, but couldn't take advantage of playing at home in the last two NFC championship games.

Donovan McNabb threw for 223 yards and one TD, but was intercepted twice.

Vinny Testaverde also was intercepted twice, including a pick by Lito Sheppard on Dallas' final drive. Keyshawn Johnson had a TD catch for Dallas (5-9).

Vikings 28, Lions 27

DETROIT — Detroit botched an extra-point kick with 8 seconds left that would've tied the game, allowing Minnesota to hang on for a much-needed victory.

The Lions went 80 yards in 1:29 to pull within a point on Joey Harrington's second touchdown pass to Roy Williams. Then, Don Muhlbach's snap bounced to holder Nick Harris, who was tackled before he could get the football spotted for kicker Jason Hanson.

Despite losing five of their previous seven games, Minnesota (8-6) can win the NFC North with a victory Friday at home over Green Bay and at Washington.

The Lions (5-9) almost certainly fell out of the postseason race with their seventh loss in eight games, a heartbreaker they'll be thinking about for a long time.

Daunte Culpepper was 25-of-35 for 404 yards with three TD passes and Moe Williams scored the go-ahead TD on an 11-yard run with 1:37 left.

Jets 37, Seahawks 14

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Chad Pennington threw three touchdown passes and Curtis Martin had 134 yards and two touchdown runs, helping New York keep its lead in the AFC wild-card standings.

The Seahawks (7-7) had another disappointing day in their bid to stay atop the NFC West, with three turnovers the Jets (10-4) converted into 14 points.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck injured his right elbow later in the quarter, and Trent Dilfer came on in relief.

The Seahawks also were on the losing end of another call officials appeared to blow. Martin scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter even though replays showed he never reached the goal line. Coach Mike Holmgren challenged the call, but referee Scott Green determined the TD should stand.

Bills 33, Bengals 17

CINCINNATI — Takeo Spikes returned an interception 62 yards for a pivotal touchdown against his former team, and Buffalo turned in another dominating defensive performance.

Buffalo (8-6) bolstered its playoff chances with a solid all-around game. Jason Peters blocked a punt and recovered in the end zone for a score, and the defense turned Jon Kitna's latest comeback into a bad flashback.

Kitna, filling in for the injured Carson Palmer, threw two interceptions and fumbled a snap, dooming the Bengals (6-8) to their 14th consecutive season without a winning record — one of the longest streaks of futility in NFL history.

Spikes' second touchdown of the season put the Bills up 21-7 and on their way to a fifth straight win. Since an 0-4 start, Buffalo has won eight of 10 to climb into contention for a wild-card berth. The Bills have scored at least 33 points while winning each of their last five games, their best such streak since 1998.

Chiefs 45, Broncos 17

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Larry Johnson and Eddie Kennison each scored two touchdowns and Dante Hall returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for another score in Kansas City's win over slumping Denver.

The Chiefs (6-8) scored on four of their first five possessions, aided on every drive by Denver mistakes.

It was the Chiefs' biggest margin of victory in the long series since a 31-point win in 1983.

The Broncos (8-6) lost for the third time in four games, and were flagged 10 times for 100 yards.

Jake Plummer, who was fined $5,000 last week for making an obscene gesture at a fan in Denver, threw two interceptions that set up Kansas City touchdowns and was sacked six times.

Johnson had his third straight game with over 100 yards rushing, running for 151 yards on 30 carries.

Texans 24, Bears 5

CHICAGO — Houston allowed the fewest points in its three-year history and got four turnovers to beat the bumbling Bears.

With the temperature 9 degrees at kickoff and the wind chill 10 below zero, it was the Texans (6-8) who handled Soldier Field's frigid conditions better than the Bears.

David Carr threw a TD pass to Corey Bradford and also set up a field goal with a 69-yard toss to Jabar Gaffney. Domanick Davis scored on an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter and Charlie Anderson capped the victory by returning a fumble 60 yards for a TD with 2:37 left.

Carr was 13-of-28 for 220.

Cardinals 31, Rams 7

TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh McCown threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more and the Cardinals snapped a four-game losing streak.

McCown, starting his second game since being benched for three, went 22-of-34 for 287 yards with no interceptions. He had TD passes of 8 and 4 yards to Larry Fitzgerald, and scoring runs of 1 and 9 yards.

A victory would have moved the Rams into a tie with Seattle atop the NFC West, the league's weakest division, and St. Louis holds the tiebreaker with two wins over the Seahawks.

Instead, the Rams fell to 6-8, just one game ahead of the Cardinals (5-9), who improbably are still alive in the division race.

Raiders 40, Titans 35

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kerry Collins threw for 371 yards and matched his career high with five touchdown passes, hitting Jerry Porter for three scores, and outdueling Billy Volek.

Volek had the second-best passing day in franchise history with 492 yards and four touchdowns. But it wasn't enough to keep Tennessee (4-10) from losing its fourth straight game.

Drew Bennett established a career high with 13 receptions (for 160 yards), tying the Titans' franchise record for catches. He caught two touchdown passes in the first half, reaching 10 TDs for the first time in his career .

Jaguars 28, Packers 25

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Byron Leftwich threw two touchdown passes, Fred Taylor rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown and Rashean Mathis picked off Brett Favre twice, helping the Jaguars stay in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

Jimmy Smith caught two touchdowns for Jacksonville (8-6).

Favre turned over the ball four times and fell to 31-4 at home after Dec. 1, losing for just the second time in 40 cold-weather games at home.

Nevertheless, the Packers (8-6) became the ninth team in NFL history to reach the playoffs after a 1-4 start. They clinched before kickoff because Chicago, Dallas, Carolina and New York all lost in the run-of-the-mill NFC.

The Packers fell into a tie with Minnesota atop the NFC North. They travel to Minnesota for a Christmas Eve matinee that will likely decide the division.

Saints 21, Buccaneers 17

TAMPA, Fla. — Aaron Brooks threw two touchdown passes in the last four minutes, including a 7-yarder to Donte' Stallworth with 32 seconds left, to keep alive the Saints' playoff hopes.

It was the second straight comeback win for New Orleans, which the previous week overcame a 10-point deficit against Dallas to stop a three-game losing streak.

The victory lifted the Saints (6-8) into a tie with Carolina and St. Louis for the last wild-card spot in the weak NFC. The Bucs (5-9) became the first team to win the Super Bowl and then post consecutive losing records the next two seasons.

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