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LT, Sproles lead Chargers to second consecutive AFC West title

On the last day of September, the San Diego Chargers lost for the third time in four games and their fans were chanting the name of the coach who was fired in February. Norv Turner was Public Enemy No.

SAN DIEGO -- On the last day of September, the San Diego Chargers lost for the third time in four games and their fans were chanting the name of the coach who was fired in February.

Norv Turner was Public Enemy No. 1. LaDainian Tomlinson was a frustrated non-factor.

Fast forward 11 weeks, and the Chargers are AFC West champions with two games to play.

They left no doubt in clinching the title on Sunday, beating the punchless Detroit Lions 51-14. It was their fourth straight win and eighth in 10 games.

"It isn't our main goal, but it feels good to win the division, especially starting 1-3," said Tomlinson, who had 116 yards and two scores on 15 carries to continue his climb up the career rushing and touchdown charts.

"It doesn't matter how you start but how you finish."

In Tomlinson's case, that's huge because he's 0-2 in the playoffs during his brilliant career.

With their third division crown in four years secured, the Chargers (9-5) need simply to win out to secure the AFC's No. 3 playoff seed.

The next challenge, of course, is finding a way to win in January. The Chargers have dropped four straight postseason games dating to their embarrassing Super Bowl loss to San Francisco on Jan. 29, 1995. Since then, it's been one-and-done three times, including last year's loss against New England after they went an NFL-best 14-2 under Marty Schottenheimer.

This rout was so complete that LT got the second half off. Backup Michael Turner hurt a shoulder in the second quarter, which allowed Darren Sproles to run for 122 yards and two TDs. It was the first time in Chargers history that two backs rushed for more than 100 yards in the same game.

It helped immensely that Detroit's Jon Kitna tied his career-high with five interceptions. Three of them came in the span of six plays in the first half, leading to 17 points. Detroit had six turnovers total, leading to 27 points.

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie broke a 46-year-old Chargers record with his 10th interception of the season, tops in the NFL. Cromartie's 10 picks have come in the last nine games, and he's been a starter for the last six. Cromartie also recovered a fumble on a kickoff.

It's a sure thing they won't be facing a team as awful as the Lions (6-8) come the first weekend of January. Detroit has lost six straight following its 6-2 start.

"We weren't as far away at 1-3 as it may have appeared," Turner said. "I didn't really have doubts that we would get things done the way we wanted to get them done."

Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, who returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown, said being 1-3 "was the best thing that could happen to us. We are human. You can't go 14-2 every year. It made us work that much harder.

"We're back to playing Charger football. We haven't reached the top yet. We're still just trying to chip away at the iceberg," Phillips said.

"When it goes bad for us, it goes really bad. I'm not sure why," Kitna said.

Tomlinson passed Eddie George and Tiki Barber and took over 19th place on the career rushing list with 10,487 yards. His two touchdowns give him 127, moving him past Jim Brown (126) for sixth place all time. He and Eric Dickerson are the only players in NFL history to rush for more than 1,200 yards in each of their first seven seasons.

Sproles had one carry for minus-1 yard in the first half. He carried 24 times in the second half, scoring on runs of 1 and 11 yards. His 56-yard touchdown reception from Billy Volek was called back after tackle Shane Olivea, who recently lost his starting job, was whistled for being an ineligible receiver downfield.

Tomlinson said he felt his hamstring grab on a 49-yard run just before halftime but could have played in the second half in needed.

Tomlinson noticed that Sproles was gassed in the second half.

"I kept on making fun of him because he kept on looking over at the sidelines," Tomlinson said. "I'm like, 'I don't know what to tell you, I'm not coming in.' "

Tomlinson, the reigning NFL MVP, scored on a 6-yard run to cap San Diego's opening drive and on a 2-yard run after a Kitna pass bounced off wide receiver Calvin Johnson's hands and was picked off by safety Clinton Hart.

On Detroit's next drive, Kitna completed three straight passes to his teammates before throwing one right to Chargers linebacker Matt Wilhelm. That set up Nate Kaeding's 22-yard field goal.

On the first play of Detroit's next series, Phillips deflected Kitna's pass, leaped to catch the ball and returned it 18 yards for a 27-0 lead with 8:23 still to play before halftime.

Philip Rivers threw a 1-yard scoring pass to Brandon Manumaleuna to make it 34-7 at halftime.

Kitna threw touchdown passes of 9 yards to Brandon Middleton and 17 to Shaun McDonald.

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