OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Norv Turner won in his return to Oakland, LaDainian Tomlinson captured his second straight rushing title, and most importantly, the San Diego Chargers clinched the third seed in the AFC playoffs.
After struggling at the start of the season, the Chargers have hit their stride heading into the postseason.
Philip Rivers threw two touchdown passes, Tomlinson wrapped up the rushing title with 56 yards, and San Diego spoiled JaMarcus Russell’s first career start with a 30-17 victory over the Raiders on Sunday.
By ending the season with six straight wins, the Chargers (11-5) beat out Pittsburgh for the No. 3 seed. San Diego will host Tennessee next Sunday at 4:30 p.m. instead of playing Jacksonville, the last team to beat the Chargers.
“This one has been more difficult than last year, obviously,” Tomlinson said. “Things went our way last year. Last year seemed like we breezed through the whole season. This year, there was a lot of adversity. It was more difficult, so I think for me, it’s even more special. That’s because we really had to work for it. There was times when it seemed like it just wasn’t going to happen, and then we find ourselves in this position at the end of the year. It feels great.”
Now San Diego turns its attention to trying to win its first playoff game since going to the Super Bowl following the 1994 season. The postseason was a bitter disappointment last season when the Chargers lost their first game at home to New England after going 14-2 during the regular season.
The playoff loss to the Patriots led to Marty Schottenheimer getting fired, a decision that was questioned heavily when the Chargers got off to a 5-5 start under Turner, who failed to take the Raiders to the playoffs in two seasons as their coach. It will take a win in the postseason to put those questions to rest.
“Everything we’ve done this season has been great,” defensive lineman Igor Olshansky said. “But we have to get that ‘W’ in the playoffs. We have all the tools in the locker room to beat any team.”
Russell, the No. 1 overall draft pick, got off to a slow start by throwing an interception to defensive lineman Igor Olshansky on his first play and losing a fumble in the end zone that led to a touchdown by Jyles Tucker midway through the third quarter.
Russell relied mostly on short passes as coach Lane Kiffin wanted to take pressure off his talented rookie. Russell did get to show off the strong arm that made him the No. 1 pick for Oakland (4-12). He moved nicely in the pocket before hitting Jerry Porter with a 32-yard scoring strike that cut San Diego’s lead to 24-17 late in the third quarter.
“It was fun to see him play today,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “I’ve been very critical of him. He understands that. We have extremely high expectations for him. The way he played the week before, I don’t care if it’s the first time he’s ever played, that’s not our standards for him and he understands that.”
Russell turned the ball over four times as a reserve last week in Jacksonvile, drawing sharp criticism from his coach. The $61 million quarterback was 23-for-31 for 224 yards in his first start, leading an efficient drive in the final minute of the first half for a field goal.
“A lot better than last week,” Russell said. “I had a lot more time to see everything and get a feel for the clock. … I think I made a lot better decisions this week.”
Tomlinson caught a 7-yard TD pass but didn’t have nearly the success he usually does against the Raiders as Turner limited him to 15 carries to make sure he’s fresh for the playoffs. But that was enough for L.T. to finish the season with 1,474 yards rushing, 133 ahead of Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson.
“It’s an incredible feat to do that,” Turner said. “I don’t know how many guys have done it back-to-back. He’s amazing. It’s fun to coach him and fun to watch him.”
Rivers went 13-for-23 for 135 yards and the two first-half touchdowns. Nate Kaeding added three field goals for San Diego.
Dominic Rhodes had 29 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown for the Raiders, the first Oakland back since Napoleon Kaufman in 1997 to reach the century mark against San Diego.
Warren Sapp, whose forced fumble set up Oakland’s first TD, said after the game he is contemplating retirement after 13 seasons and would likely make a decision within a week.
“If that was the last time Raiders fans got a look at Warren Sapp on the field, I wanted it to be something special,” Sapp said.
Oakland’s Shane Lechler set a single-season record for net punting. Lechler averaged 41.1 net yards per punt, narrowly edging San Francisco’s Andy Lee at 41.0. The previous record was 39.9 by Mike Horan of the New York Giants in 1993. … Olshansky’s interception was the first of his four-year career.