SAN DIEGO - 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.
Tomlinson’s wife, LaTorsha, doesn’t like it when he leaps over the pile. Asked if he expected to hear about it, he said: “Absolutely.”
Twelve of Tomlinson’s 21 carries went for 1 yard or less, including four for losses.
Even so, 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 finally 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.