L.T.'s record romp helps Chargers clinch AFC West title

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- LaDainian Tomlinson had barely swept into the
end zone and the record book when he was engulfed by the behemoths
on his offensive line.

They hoisted him onto their shoulders and carried him toward the
sideline, with Tomlinson holding the ball high in his right hand
and waving his left index finger, a 48-20 win over the Denver
Broncos and the AFC West title all wrapped up.

With chants of "L.T.! L.T.!" and "MVP! MVP!" pouring from
the stands, everyone got to celebrate Tomlinson's NFL-record 29th
touchdown of the season.

Really, the star running back, who may be one of the more humble
athletes in all pro sports, wouldn't have it any other way.

"Once I got over the pylon, my initial thought process was to
bring every guy on the offensive unit over to share that moment,"
Tomlinson said. "When we're old and can't play this game anymore,
them are the moments we are going to remember, that we'll be able
to tell our kids, tell our grandchildren. We can talk about
something special that we did. We made history today.

"There's no better feeling than to share it with the group of
guys that's in that locker room."

With three touchdowns, including the final two in a 47-second
span late in the game, Tomlinson broke Shaun Alexander's year-old
record of 28.

The Chargers' seventh straight victory, coupled with Kansas
City's 20-10 loss to Baltimore, gave San Diego (11-2) its second
division title in three seasons.

The Chargers also grabbed the inside track to home-field
advantage throughout the AFC playoffs when Indianapolis lost 44-17
at Jacksonville to fall into a tie with Baltimore at 10-3.

But this game was all about Tomlinson, who has become the MVP
front-runner by scoring 26 touchdowns in the last nine games.

"He came into the huddle and said, 'I want all of you guys to
join me in the end zone when I get it,' " right tackle Shane
Olivea said.

Tomlinson was soon on the shoulders of 300-pound men.

"He is a king and he should be treated like one," left guard
Kris Dielman said. "That is what a king gets."

Said fullback Lorenzo Neal: "I think he will go down in history
as the best."

Coach Marty Schottenheimer has long contended that Tomlinson is
the best running back he's ever seen. On Sunday, he amended that

"I believe he is the finest running back to ever wear an NFL

Tomlinson was greeted by several Broncos at midfield after the
game. He ran to the far end zone to celebrate with fans, then ran
back along the sideline, both arms upraised, while heading to the
locker room.

Tomlinson scored on a 1-yard early in the second quarter,
helping the Chargers to a 28-3 halftime lead. The Broncos, behind
rookie quarterback Jay Cutler, scored 17 straight points in the
third quarter to make it a game.

But, with the Chargers leading 34-20, Luis Castillo sacked
Cutler on fourth-and-2, giving the Chargers the ball at the Denver

Tomlinson tied Alexander's record of 28 when he scored on a
6-yard run with 3:57 left. He got hit at the 3, but spun right and

The Chargers got the ball back when Shawne Merriman came from
behind Cutler to cause and recover a fumble at the Denver 7. On the
next play, with the crowd at full throat, Tomlinson ran to his left
and scored.

The play was called power 50, which is designed to go inside.

"I could have guessed that that was the play we were going to
call because it was Marty's favorite play," Tomlinson said. "It
was fitting to break the record on Marty's favorite play."

But Tomlinson took the play outside and scored.

"Usually the coaching staff tells me if I go out there, I'm on
my own."

Cornerback Darrent Williams dived and missed Tomlinson at the 6.
Domonique Foxworth made a last desperate attempt to push Tomlinson
out of bounds at the goal line.

"We have run that play so many times this year that we knew
that the possibility of it succeeding was awfully high," right
guard Mike Goff said.

"I had the chills there almost before the play, waiting
around," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "It was that special
looking at the stadium. There wasn't one person sitting down. It
was just that magical feeling out there in the huddle. The linemen
were excited. I tried to get L.T. to show some emotion but you know
him, he wouldn't."

Asked where he plans to keep the ball, Tomlinson said with a
laugh: "I don't know. I'll probably just throw it in a closet."

Denver (7-6) lost its fourth straight game.

"They beat us and they beat us squarely," Denver coach Mike
Shanahan said after the Chargers swept the series for the first
time since 1982. "I take my hat off to them."

Tomlinson, who has thrown for two TDs that don't count toward
his record, also tied John Riggins' 1983 record of seven straight
multi-touchdown games. He finished with 103 yards on 28 carries,
his seventh straight 100-yard game.

Tomlinson scored his first touchdown of the day early in the
second quarter, helping the Chargers take a 28-3 halftime lead.
Antonio Gates caught two touchdown passes from Rivers, and Neal
scored on a 4-yard trick play, perhaps a reward for all the
blocking he does for Tomlinson.

But Cutler, looking more poised than in his debut a week
earlier, threw touchdown passes of 28 and 11 yards to rookie tight
end Tony Scheffler in a span of 48 seconds in the third quarter.
The second TD came three plays after Chargers rookie Antonio
Cromartie fumbled on a kickoff return after being hit by Patrick
Chukwurah, with Denver's Louis Green recovering at the San Diego

Then Jason Elam kicked a 33-yard field goal to make it 28-20.

Game notes
Tomlinson has scored 174 points this season, three shy of
breaking Paul Hornung's single-season record of 176 set in 1960.
... He's the first back in San Diego history to have eight 100-yard
rushing games.


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