Backfield breakdowns contribute to Titans’ playoff exit
By: By BERNIE WILSON, AP Sports Writer
SAN DIEGO (AP) — LaDainian Tomlinson jumped for joy. Norv Turner’s eyes were red.
It was rainy and gloomy, but it might as well have been a sunny day.
Yes, the San Diego Chargers can win in the playoffs.
Thirteen long years after their last postseason victory, the Chargers finally came to life late in the second half Sunday to beat the Tennessee Titans 17-6 in an AFC wild-card game.
Tomlinson was held to 42 yards on 21 carries, but the star running back got to celebrate the first playoff victory in three tries in his brilliant seven-year career.
“It didn’t come easy, but I tell you, I’m just happy to get that first one,” Tomlinson said.
“It’s a relief, but at the same time, it’s not like we’re saying, ‘OK, we won a playoff game, so let’s get ready to lose,’ you know what I mean? I’m already thinking about next week and how tough of a game we’re going to have going to Indianapolis, facing the champs.”
The Chargers (12-5) advance to face the Colts on Sunday. San Diego escaped with a 23-21 win over the Colts at Qualcomm Stadium on Nov. 11, when Peyton Manning threw a career-high six interceptions and Adam Vinatieri missed a 29-yard field-goal attempt with 1:31 left.
The Titans bottled up Tomlinson, the two-time NFL rushing champion and 2006 league MVP, and dared quarterback Philip Rivers to beat them. The second-year starter did just that, throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson late in the third quarter that gave San Diego its first lead at 10-6.
L.T. finally found the end zone midway through the fourth quarter, on a fourth-down leap over the pile from inside the 1 that had to survive a video review.
Tomlinson went airborne and was met by linebacker Stephen Tulloch, but the running back used a second effort to get the ball over the goal line before linebacker Colin Allred knocked it out of his hands.
“I just felt like going through the air was a better option,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson jumped for joy once he emerged from the pile, but Titans coach Jeff Fisher threw his red challenge flag. After a review, it was ruled that the ball crossed the plane. Tomlinson celebrated again on the sideline.
Twelve of Tomlinson’s 21 carries went for one yard or less.
There would be no comeback for Vince Young and the Titans (10-7), who were missing four offensive starters due to injuries.
“Nobody gave us a chance to be here,” Young said. “We’re just happy to be part of it. Next year, we’ll have a good run again.”
Said Fisher: “I thought Vince played well enough for us to win. He got banged around a little bit and bounced back, made some throws.”
Just like that, the nightmares of the Marty Schottenheimer era went away.
Schottenheimer was fired due to front-office friction in February, a month after San Diego inexplicably melted down in a 24-21 divisional-round playoff loss to New England. The Chargers had gone an NFL-best 14-2 in 2006.
Two years earlier, the Chargers lost in overtime to the New York Jets in a home wild-card game.
Overall, the Chargers had lost four straight postseason games dating to their ugly 49-26 loss to San Francisco in the Super Bowl following the 1994 season.
Turner improved his career playoff record as a head coach to 2-1. After stumbling to a 1-3 start and then leveling off at 5-5, the Chargers have won seven straight and 11 of the last 13 under Turner.
When it was noted during his postgame news conference that his eyes were red, Turner said: “I don’t know. It’s probably the rain.
“This game is about the players. They fought through a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of disappointments. This is a start for them.”
Rivers was 19-of-30 for 292 yards, with one interception. Chris Chambers had six catches for 121 yards,
“We wanted Philip Rivers to beat us,” Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “I think he did a good job of that. Anytime you leave anybody wide open, any quarterback in this league is going to hit them.”
The Titans were looking for some payback after losing to the Chargers in overtime in Nashville in a tough, nasty game five weeks ago. Several players were hurt, and four players were fined a total of $32,500 by the NFL.
The Titans started faster than the Chargers, but couldn’t find the end zone.
Pro Bowl kicker Rob Bironas, who led the NFL with 35 field goals, had kicks of 30 and 44 yards to give the Titans a 6-0 halftime lead. He pushed a 38-yarder just wide left in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
The Titans weren’t happy at their inability again to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.
“That’s been our problem all year, scoring points,” wide receiver Eric Moulds said.
The Titans were heading for a great scoring chance early in the second quarter when Chris Brown fumbled when he was hit by Shawne Merriman, with Shaun Phillips recovering at the Chargers 9. San Diego ended up punting.
The Chargers lost three-time All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates to a sprained left big toe late in the second quarter. He’s questionable for the Indy game.
Notes: Tomlinson spent the last few minutes on the sideline with a wrap on his left calf. … This was the third time the Chargers had two or more players surpass 100 yards receiving in a playoff game. In their epic 41-38 overtime win against Miami on Jan. 2, 1982, Kellen Winslow had 166 yards, Charlie Joiner 108 and Wes Chandler 106. In a wild-card win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 9, 1983, Chandler had 124 and Winslow 102. … Fisher is 0-5 in his career against San Diego and 1-10, counting playoffs, on the West Coast.