SEATTLE (AP)—The Chargers didn’t need touchdowns from LaDainian Tomlinson to win. The Seahawks didn’t need to win to capture the NFC West.
San Diego’s league record holder for touchdowns and favorite to win the league’s MVP award didn’t score on Sunday. Teammate Vincent Jackson did—twice — including on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers with 29 seconds left and the Chargers won their ninth consecutive game, 20-17 over the Seahawks.
The AFC West champion Chargers (13-2) set a team record for wins in a season. A victory at home against Arizona next week would clinch them the top seed in the conference for the first time since 1980. The Chargers already have an opening-round bye for the first time in 12 years, thanks to the Houston Texans beating the Indianapolis Colts earlier in the day.
Tomlinson was happy to give the spotlight to Jackson, who raced behind Michael Boulware for the winning score.
“I’m just as happy seeing other guys score than when I score,” said Tomlinson, who has 31 TDs this season. “People expect me to score so much sometimes that it’s kind of a relief when other people do it.”
He wasn’t the only one relieved after the game.
The Seahawks’ sting of a tough loss was soothed by the Cardinals’ victory at San Francisco minutes earlier. That meant Seattle (8-7) clinched its third consecutive NFC West title despite its third straight loss.
Division-championship caps and T-shirts were in the Seahawks’ lockers afterward, though linebacker Lofa Tatupu was the only player seen wearing any of the celebration gear.
“We may have won it by default, but the eight games we have won, we’ve earned it,” Tatupu said while donning the white, division-title shirt that read “One game, one dream.”
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren told his team immediately after the game, “This doesn’t have to be a morgue.
“To be honest with you, I am more on the upbeat side than the downbeat side,” Holmgren said. “Our first goal was to win the division, and we won the division. People can say whatever they want about that—and frankly, I don’t care … I’ll take it.”
San Diego won despite Rivers missing on 22 of his first 28 passes. He finished 10-for-30 for 181 yards and is 18-for-53 in his last two games.
“I think struggle is a misused word,” the first-year starter said. “I am not denying that I haven’t played my best football … but I think that the key stat is obviously we have won nine in a row.”
That’s all Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer cares about.
“There’s one percentage that hasn’t dropped: W’s,” Schottenheimer said. “And that’s all he’s charged with doing.”
Tomlinson finished with 123 yards on 22 carries, his ninth straight 100-yard game. But more than half of those came on one play, a 62-yard romp in the first half. The long run set up a 9-yard reception by Jackson for San Diego’s first score.
Tomlinson failed to score after an astounding 21 touchdowns in his previous eight games.
Shaun Alexander, last season’s MVP, ran for 140 yards and both Seattle touchdowns to rally the Seahawks from a 10-0 deficit in the second half. His spinning, 9-yard score put Seattle up 14-13 with 13 minutes left. Josh Brown added a field goal with 5 minutes to go.
But then Rivers got going. He completed two throws for 24 yards before Jackson easily slipped behind Boulware, who was back after being benched for nine games.
“That thing just was hanging up there. All I saw was rain and the ball,” Jackson said. “I was like ‘Come on. Come on down!”’
Boulware was inconsolable at his locker, his eyes reddened by tears.
“This is … the hardest situation I’ve ever been through in my life,” he said. “But, hey, it’s definitely not going to kill me. I’m going to learn from it.”
After allowing five sacks and committing a penalty that nullified Nate Burleson’s 96-yard touchdown on a kickoff return, the Seahawks finally scored nine minutes into the third quarter. Alexander ran inside a Walter Jones block of fellow Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman for a 33-yard touchdown to pull Seattle within 10-7.
Earlier, the Seahawks’ renowned “12th Man” crowd booed their team’s offense. Matt Hasselbeck threw two interceptions in the first half, including an overthrow of wide-open Bobby Engram that Clinton Hart intercepted at the Chargers 6 with 1:02 left in the half.
Hasselbeck was 17-for-37 for 189 yards. Former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch dropped four passes amid a steady rain. Engram also bobbled a low throw.
Merriman had three sacks and has 15 1/2 sacks this season, tied with Aaron Kampman of Green Bay for the NFL lead, despite missing four games because of a league suspension for flunking a steroids test. … Jackson’s score in the second quarter helped the Chargers to avoid their first scoreless opening half in 14 months. … Seattle CB Marcus Trufant left with a sprained right ankle. He said he will get further tests Monday, but fears it is a high ankle sprain.