Now they get to give Drew Brees his job back.
Flutie and Rivers each threw a touchdown pass and the San Diego Chargers warmed up for their first playoff game in nine seasons by beating the Kansas City Chiefs 24-17 on Sunday in what was little more than an exhibition.
Having clinched the AFC West title two weeks earlier and the AFC’s No. 4 seed a week ago, the Chargers rested Pro Bowlers Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, as well as defensive tackle Jamal Williams.
The Chargers will host the New York Jets on Saturday in a first-round playoff game scheduled for prime time.
“We’re excited about it. We definitely owe them one,” Brees said. “I don’t think we could write it up any better.”
The Jets beat the Chargers 34-28 in San Diego on Sept. 19, but that was before Brees and his teammates got it together. San Diego has won nine of 10 going into the playoffs, the only loss coming a week ago at Indianapolis, 34-31 in overtime.
Even with a number of scrubs playing, San Diego (12-4) was still too much for Kansas City (7-9), which had its four-game winning streak snapped.
“When the decision was made about playing time, we were convinced it was the right thing to do,” said coach Marty Schottenheimer, who is just 5-11 in the postseason. “I think we were right.”
Kansas City’s Tony Gonzalez set the NFL’s single-season record for catches by a tight end with 102. He broke the old record of 96 set by Ben Coates in 1994. Gonzalez’s 14 catches, for 144 yards, were a Chiefs single-game record, breaking Ed Podolak’s record of 12 set in 1973.
Gonzalez said he had mixed emotions.
“It’s just hard to swallow, knowing we can’t even beat their second team,” he said.
The Chiefs had two late scores, but Trent Green was intercepted four times, tying his career high.
The Chargers tied the club record for victories in a season, set in 1961 and matched in 1979.
Rivers, the prized rookie who’s been kept on the bench by Brees’ inspired play, threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Floyd midway through the fourth quarter for a 24-3 lead.
Rivers wasn’t nearly as nervous then as he was when he took over for Flutie starting the second half and the Chargers leading 17-3.
Rivers had a serious case of happy feet, and his first pass attempt was an awkward shovel pass that missed Bobby Shaw. After Michael Turner ran for 2 yards, Rivers completed his first pass, a screen to Turner that resulted in a 5-yard loss.
Rivers’ only other action this season was mop-up duty in a 26-point win over New Orleans on Nov. 7.
“It was a bumpy start of my career, in a game that counted,” Rivers said. “I didn’t play great and I made some mistakes. But if you can do that, get your first touchdown pass and hang on for the win to get to 12-4, you can find a lot of positives.”
Rivers, who missed practice Friday to be with his wife for the birth of their second child, was 5-of-8 for 33 yards. Flutie was 13-of-22 for 199 yards.
Flutie started for the first time since Dec. 7, 2003, in a victory at Detroit. That game came at the end of a five-game stretch in which Flutie replaced the ineffective Brees. Brees finished 2003 with 15 interceptions and 11 touchdown passes, but rebounded this year with 27 TD passes and just seven interceptions.
Flutie ran for a 1-yard touchdown and threw a 10-yard scoring pass to tight end Ryan Krause, both late in the second quarter to give the Chargers a 17-3 halftime lead.
Flutie had a 30-yard scramble to open the first scoring drive and later had a 28-yard completion to Kassim Osgood.
“It was a really good feeling,” Flutie said. “When something is taken away from you and you don’t get a chance to do it very often, you’re very appreciative when you get the chance again.”
Although Rivers was the second-string quarterback most of the season and Flutie the third-stringer, they’ll flip-flop for the playoffs.
Larry Johnson scored twice for Kansas City in the closing minutes, on a 2-yard run and on a 14-yard pass from Trent Green.
Green was 33-of-53 for 373 yards.
Green set KC single-season records with 4,591 passing yards and 369 completions. … The Chiefs had 26 first downs to set the NFL single-season record with 398. The old record was 387 by the 1984 Miami Dolphins. … Chargers LB Steve Foley had a cut right forearm and holder Mike Scifres injured his right thumb on a botched field goal attempt in the second quarter. Scifres bobbled the snap, then threw an interception. “It was a boneheaded play,” he said.