American Football: Chargers rally to secure play-off place

This time last year the San Diego Chargers were finishing the campaign with the worst record in the League, and their veteran coach, Marty Schottenheimer looked in danger of dismissal. Things change quickly in the NFL, however, and on Sunday the Chargers secured their first appearance in the play-offs for a decade with a 21-0 triumph in snowy Cleveland.

This time last year the San Diego Chargers were finishing the campaign with the worst record in the League, and their veteran coach, Marty Schottenheimer looked in danger of dismissal. Things change quickly in the NFL, however, and on Sunday the Chargers secured their first appearance in the play-offs for a decade with a 21-0 triumph in snowy Cleveland.

Schottenheimer is once again being hailed as a visionary leader and, for good measure, Antonio Gates equalled the League record with another touchdown, his 12th of the season, the most ever by a tight end.

The Chargers' other scores came from the running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who captured the mood of exhilaration of this perennially struggling franchise. "To go from where we were to this is awesome,'' he said. "I've dreamed of the play-offs for a long time.''

San Diego join Pittsburgh, New England and Indianapolis as post-season qualifiers, and the New York Jets will almost certainly join them following a comfortable 37-14 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. The quarterback Chad Pennington, who had thrown four interceptions in his previous two games, made amends with three touchdown passes.

The Philadelphia Eagles qualified some weeks ago but their quest for a Super Bowl place might be hampered by a spate of untimely injuries. Their key receiver Terrell Owens damaged an ankle in his side's 12-7 win over Dallas.The outspoken Owens is Philadelphia's leading scorer, and his absence could have a significant impact on his team. "He is a playmaker,'' said the Eagles' Brian Westbrook, "but we have other guys who can make plays.''

Green Bay were beaten 28-25 at home to Jacksonville, the quarterback Brett Favre throwing three interceptions, but other results meant the Packers secured a play-off place regardless.

A fiery contest was soured by a vicious hit by Donovin Darius, whose neck-high tackle on Robert Ferguson hospitalised the Green Bay player. Fortunately, he recovered the feeling in his limbs on the way to hospital.

The Minnesota Vikings are almost there, after hanging on for an important 28-27 verdict against the Detroit Lions. The affair looked poised for overtime as Detroit scored a late touchdown, but inexplicably the Lions missed the extra point, gifting the Vikings their win.

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