Final

Broncos 23

(13-3, 5-3 away)

Chargers 7

(9-7, 4-4 home)

4:30 PM ET, December 31, 2005

Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA 

1 2 3 4 T
DEN 0 14 2 723
SD 0 7 0 07

Top Performers

Passing: P. Rivers (SD) - 115 YDS, 1 INT

Rushing: L. Tomlinson (SD) - 19 CAR, 92 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: E. Parker (SD) - 8 REC, 87 YDS

Lynch forces fumble, safety; Bell scores three TDs

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Drew Brees hustled out of the locker room with his right arm in a sling.

LaDainian Tomlinson said he played the last 4½ games with a cracked rib that made it tough to breathe every time he got hit.

It was a painful ending to a lost season for the San Diego Chargers, who were roughed up Saturday in a 23-7 loss to the playoff-bound Denver Broncos.

Denver safety John Lynch, who's from San Diego, did a lot of the damage himself, helping knock Brees out of the game with a dislocated shoulder, then forcing Philip Rivers to fumble in the end zone, resulting in a safety.

The game, played on a rainy afternoon in front of a crowd that included thousands of Broncos fans, meant nothing in the standings.

That didn't keep the Broncos (13-3), who had already clinched the AFC West title and a first-round bye, from playing all-out.

"In my mind, every time you get an opportunity to play in the NFL, you owe it to yourself, to your team and to the people who pay to watch the game, to play hard," said Lynch, whose high school coach was in the stands.

Quarterback Jake Plummer got banged around a bit, but led the Broncos to a 14-7 halftime lead before making way for Bradlee Van Pelt.

"It's going to mean nothing if we don't do something in the playoffs," said Plummer, who was 8-of-14 for 91 yards.

Tatum Bell scored three touchdowns for Denver, but was held to 52 yards on 17 carries. He needed 131 yards for 1,000. He and Mike Anderson were trying to become the fourth running back tandem in NFL history to finish with 1,000 yards each.

San Diego (9-7), which won the division last year, lost three of its last four games. After ending Indianapolis' shot at a perfect season on Dec. 18, the Chargers were knocked out of the playoff picture with a listless performance in a 20-7 loss at Kansas City on Christmas Eve.

Tomlinson did set two club records.

His 6-yard scoring run in the second quarter was his 20th touchdown of the season, breaking out of a tie with Chuck Muncie, who scored 19 TDs in 1981. He also eclipsed Hall of Famer Lance Alworth's team career mark of 9,721 yards from scrimmage, pushing his total to 9,755.

Tomlinson hadn't scored in the previous four games, matching the longest drought of his five-year career. He gained 92 yards on 19 carries, his fifth straight game under 100 yards.

He sustained what the team thought were bruised ribs in a win over Oakland on Dec. 4. X-rays the next day didn't show a break, but Tomlinson said an MRI last week revealed a cracked rib.

"It's tough when you are playing with ribs that are more than just bruised. But as football players, it's hard to take us off the field," he said. "You have to be really pretty much dying out there to come off the field. That's just the way we are."

Tomlinson said there were some games "that it really affected me, but finally today was the first day that I didn't have a problem with it."

Bell had a 19-yard touchdown run late in the game, one play after Curome Cox intercepted Rivers and returned it 48 yards. The Broncos got another 15 yards after Rivers ripped off Cox's helmet at the end of the play, drawing a 15-yard facemask penalty.

Brees hurt his right shoulder late in the second quarter. He dropped back to pass in his own end zone and was blindsided by the blitzing Lynch, who hacked at his right arm. Brees fumbled and was hurt when he went for the ball and had defensive tackle Gerard Warren land on him. Denver's Sam Brandon recovered at the 1. Bell scored on the next play to give the Broncos a 14-0 lead.

Brees, who was 8-of-14 for 68 yards, didn't stop to talk to reporters as he left the locker room.

"Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, they both look the same to me," Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said. "Neither of them got it done."

Rivers had been in for only one play this year, taking a knee to end a 48-10 win over Buffalo on Nov. 20.

Rivers led the Chargers on a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive late in the second quarter, going 3-of-6 for 39 yards. The Chargers lined up for a field goal attempt on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 6, but when the officials reset the play clock, they went for it and Tomlinson scored to cut Denver's lead to 14-7.

With less than six minutes to play in the third quarter, Rivers dropped back into his own end zone, rolled left, was blindsided by Lynch and fumbled. Right tackle Shane Olivea jumped on the ball to prevent a Broncos TD.

Rivers looked like a guy who'd played only sparingly in two seasons. He had some wild overthrows and some good passes. He finished 12-of-22 for 115 yards.

Asked how he played, Rivers said: "Not very well. It was a bunch of silly mistakes. I thought I threw it OK, but you can't hold the ball when you know Lynch and those guys are coming off the backside."

The Chargers will decide in the offseason whether to keep Brees, Rivers, or both. Brees played this season under an $8 million, one-year contract as the team's "franchise" player. Rivers has four years left on his contract. ^Notes:@ San Diego defensive end Luis Castillo and linebacker Marques Harris sustained knee injuries. ... Lynch had two of the Broncos' six sacks.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
DEN
SD
1st Downs1715
Passing 1st downs
59
Rushing 1st downs
124
1st downs from penalties
02
3rd down efficiency
3-142-14
4th down efficiency
2-21-3
Total Plays6462
Total Yards241236
Yards per play3.83.8
Total Drives1413
Passing84145
Comp-Att
10-2220-36
Yards per pass
3.53.5
Interceptions thrown
01
Sacks-Yards Lost
2-146-38
Rushing15791
Rushing Attempts
4020
Yards per rush
3.94.6
Red Zone (Made-Att)0-40-1
Penalties4-228-70
Turnovers02
Fumbles lost
01
Interceptions thrown
01
Defensive / Special Teams TDs00
Possession33:2226:38

Passing Leaders

DENC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Plummer8/14916.5002-14
Van Pelt2/870.9000-0
SDC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Rivers12/221155.2013-16
Brees8/14684.9003-22

Rushing Leaders

DENCARYDSAVGTDLG
Dayne13644.9016
Bell17523.1319
SDCARYDSAVGTDLG
Tomlinson19924.8128
Turner1-1-1.00-1

Receiving Leaders

DENRECYDSAVGTDLG
Johnson22713.5021
Duke12121.0021
SDRECYDSAVGTDLG
Parker88710.9022
McCardell6518.5013

Scoring Summary

SECOND QUARTERDENSD
denTD11:54Tatum Bell, 6 yd run (Jason Elam kick is good)
Drive info: 9 plays, 77 yds, 10:43
70
denTD3:27Tatum Bell, 1 yd run (Jason Elam kick is good)
Drive info: 1 plays, 1 yds, 0:00
167
SECOND QUARTERDENSD
sdTD0:43LaDainian Tomlinson, 6 yd run (Nate Kaeding kick is good)
Drive info: 13 plays, 69 yds, 2:33
147
THIRD QUARTERDENSD
denSF5:37Safety
Drive info: 1 plays, 0 yds, 0:00
167
FOURTH QUARTERDENSD
denTD4:38Tatum Bell, 19 yd run (Jason Elam kick is good)
Drive info: 2 plays, 14 yds, 0:06
237