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Bolts deck Cards, secure top seed in AFC

SAN DIEGO (Dec. 31, 2006) -- If it had been, say, the Super Bowl, Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson would have played on.

Both were on the sideline, though, as the San Diego Chargers finished their most remarkable regular season with a 27-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Rivers sprained his right foot, which didn't keep him from throwing two touchdown passes. Tomlinson, the record-setting running back, had already wrapped up his first NFL rushing title when someone stepped on one of his legs.

The Chargers (14-2) clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They'd already earned a first-round bye, which will give Rivers and Tomlinson time to rest.

"Now we can put the record thing behind us and just get on to playing football," said Tomlinson, the front-runner for the league MVP award.

San Diego heads into the playoffs with a 10-game winning streak and its first perfect home record since 1963. The Chargers' 14 wins and eight home victories are club records.

"We accomplished a lot today," Rivers said. "Most importantly, everything's going to come through San Diego. It was a good day for the Chargers."

Tomlinson ran for 66 yards, giving him 1,815 and the league rushing title. He beat Larry Johnson of the division rival Kansas City Chiefs, who had 1,789.

The rushing title gives Tomlinson even more validation, as if he really needed it.

"You kind of always have that hanging over your head when you haven't won the rushing title," Tomlinson said.

"It feels real good," said Tomlinson, who added that he was as pleased for his offensive linemen as he was for himself. "You are regarded by whether you win a rushing title. All the great ones pretty much have."

Tomlinson did not score for the second straight game. He already was the league's most prolific scorer in a single season, with 31 touchdowns and 186 points.

San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer won his 200th regular-season game, joining Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Curly Lambeau in that exclusive club. Each of those coaches won multiple Super Bowls or NFL titles.

Now Schottenheimer will try to do something about his unsightly 5-12 playoff record as he tries to get to his first Super Bowl.

Dennis Green might have coached his last game for Arizona (5-11). He is 16-32 in three seasons.

Green dodged questions about his future.

"I'm a 57-year-old man and I'm not going to discuss my feelings right now," Green said.

Rivers was hurt when he was sacked by Chike Okeafor late in the first quarter. He missed the first play of the next drive while being treated on the sideline, then returned and went 5-for-6 for 82 yards, including a 33-yard TD pass to tight end Antonio Gates that gave the Chargers a 10-7 lead.

He threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson late in the first half, and continued to play even after the Chargers built a 17-point third-quarter lead. He clearly was bothered by the injury, pulling up and limping each time he threw a pass.

"To me, it's not the biggest news of the day," Rivers said. "To me, it'll be a non-issue come two weeks from now."

Rivers came out after some high-level huddling on the sideline that included Schottenheimer, trainer James Collins, Dr. David Chao, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, backup Billy Volek and third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst.

Volek trotted out for a possession that started with 1:26 left in the third quarter.

Rivers finished 19-of-24 for 231 yards with an interception.

"Whatever it may be, you don't want to make it worse," Rivers said. "I think that was more the case than anything. Had this game been for all the marbles, I'd probably still been going."

Same with Tomlinson, who said Schottenheimer wanted him to sit out the final 1 1/2 quarters.

"If he had told me to go back in the game, I would have," Tomlinson said.

The Chargers piled it on in the third quarter. Tim Dobbins recovered Bryant Johnson 's muffed punt in the end zone for a touchdown, and Nate Kaeding kicked a 35-yard field goal to make it 27-7.

Arizona closed the gap with field goals of 28 and 20 by Neil Rackers, and Kurt Warner' s 9-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald.

Trailing 27-17, the Cardinals got to the Chargers' 2-yard line with 3:26 left before Shawne Merriman batted down Warner's third-down pass, forcing Arizona to settle for Rackers' 20-yard field goal.

"We have as much talent as we need to have to be successful," said Warner, subbing for injured rookie Matt Leinart. "I think we continued to improve throughout the season. I think the question for all of us is, why we didn't play the first nine weeks like we have the last seven?"

The Cardinals were 1-8 before winning four of their last seven.

Notes: The Chargers set the franchise season record with 492 points. ... Merriman had one sack to finish with 17.

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