Chargers awake in second half to topple Titans, snap postseason skid

Tennessee Titans Cortland Finnegan, left, makes an interception in the end zone in front of San Diego Chargers' Chris Chambers, right, during the second quarter of their AFC wild-card game Sunday, Jan. 6, 2008, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

SAN DIEGO -- Well, wouldn't you know it, 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.

A gloomy, rainy afternoon never looked so good in normally sunny San Diego. Star running back LaDainian Tomlinson was held to 42 yards, but got to celebrate the first playoff victory in three tries in his brilliant career.

The Titans bottled up Tomlinson, the two-time NFL rushing champion and the 2006 NFL 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.

Tomlinson 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 replay.

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.

Tomlinson jumped for joy once he emerged from the pile, but Titans coach Jeff Fisher threw his red challenge flag. After a video review, it was ruled that the ball crossed the plane of the goal line. Tomlinson celebrated again on the sideline.

There would be no comeback for Vince Young and the Titans (10-7), who were missing four offensive starters due to injuries.

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.

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.

The Chargers (12-5) advance to face the Colts on Sunday in Indianapolis. That game also will be a rematch. San Diego escaped with a 23-21 win over the Colts 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.

San Diego's Norv 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 13 under Turner.

Tomlinson spent the last few minutes on the sideline in this one with a wrap on his left calf.

Rivers was 19-of-30 for 292 yards, with one interception. Chris Chambers had six catches for 121 yards, and Jackson had five for 114.

The Titans were looking for some payback after losing to the Chargers in overtime in Nashville in a tough, nasty game. 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.

Both teams had a turnover, but neither could do anything with it.

Tennessee's Chris Brown fumbled when he was hit by Shawne Merriman, with Shaun Phillips recovering at the Chargers 9. San Diego ended up punting.

Rivers was intercepted in the end zone by Cortland Finnegan.

The Chargers lost three-time All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates to a toe injury late in the second quarter.

San Diego's Nate Kaeding kicked a 20-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.

The Associated Press News Service