SAN DIEGO -- LaDainian Tomlinson sat alone on a plastic folding chair, drumming his fingertips together and staring at the shiny silver toes on his shoes. In a moment, he would walk across the worn blue carpet to explain why the San Diego Chargers belly-flopped in yet another dive into the postseason.
Tomlinson could only hope it wouldn't be the last time he walked through this stadium where he's done so much for the Chargers -- except shake their reputations as playoff disasters.
San Diego (13-4) made its latest ignominious exit from the NFL postseason Sunday, wasting numerous scoring opportunities and bending just enough defensively in the second half of the New York Jets' 17-14 victory in the AFC divisional playoffs.
"The reasons why and whatever aren't going to matter," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We just didn't do it."
San Diego Super Chargers? Not this year, and perhaps not ever with Tomlinson, the beloved running back whose time in town could be up.
The Chargers have made just one trip to the AFC championship game with no Super Bowl appearances during the tenure of Tomlinson, who might have finished his storied career in San Diego with 24 yards on 12 carries -- and just 4 yards in the second half.
Tomlinson barely made it to this season with the Chargers, who contemplated cutting him loose to allay their salary cap woes. He has become one of the most beloved athletes in San Diego history during a nine-year career, but his decreased production and speed suggest his time with the club could be ending after his first career year with fewer than 1,000 yards rushing.
"I'm not sure," Tomlinson said when asked about his future. "I've heard all the speculation, but I'll tell you what, I've had a heck of a time here, and if it is (over), I've enjoyed the ride."
The second-seeded AFC West champions hadn't lost in their last 11 games since mid-October, yet this defeat didn't even seem to be much of a surprise to the fans who grumbled nervously through the low-scoring first three quarters before erupting in outright boos in the fourth.
The Chargers were the only team with a first-round bye who couldn't get out of this divisional round. It was San Diego's first home playoff loss since 2006, when a 14-2 San Diego squad lost a divisional game to New England, giving up 10 points in the fourth quarter of a 24-21 defeat.
For all the brilliance of Rivers and Drew Brees before him, for all the game-breaking running of Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, and for all the fierce defenders led by Shawne Merriman, the Chargers are just 3-5 in the playoffs over the last seven seasons.
"When you've come so far and you've done all the right things to get in the position that we were in, to fall like this is a horrible feeling," Merriman said. "Horrible."
Yet nobody stood out as an obvious goat -- well, except Chargers All-Pro kicker Nate Kaeding, who missed three field goals. The San Diego defense largely shut down the vaunted New York running game, not even yielding 100 yards until midway through the fourth quarter. The San Diego offense moved the ball fairly well, outgaining the Jets by 82 yards.
"They did some things that kept us out of the end zone," Rivers said. "We did some things offensive, yard-wise, but who cares about yards if you don't have more points at the end?"
Both units made key mistakes as well, including the Chargers' 10 penalties for 87 yards. Shonn Greene's biggest run went straight through the defense's heart with 7:17 left for a 53-yard TD.
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Rivers had another playoff game to forget despite 298 yards passing and an early touchdown. His first interception was a freak mistake attributable to the brilliance of cornerback Darrelle Revis, but it still killed a likely scoring drive -- and his second was an awful miscommunication between Rivers and Antonio Gates that set up the Jets' go-ahead score.
And don't forget Kaeding, who missed a short try in the first quarter, a long one right before halftime, and a 40-yarder in the final minutes that would have trimmed the Jets' lead to seven points.
"Professionally, it's a tough thing to get through, but I never feel sorry for myself," Kaeding said. "I feel sorry for my teammates, my coaches and the support staff for letting them down."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press