The mild, mild AFC West belongs to LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers and the rest of the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers won the NFL's weakest division with an 8-8 record, becoming the first team to go from 4-8 to the playoffs by routing the visiting Denver Broncos last night, 52-21.
The Chargers became the first team to win a division at 8-8 since Cleveland did it in 1985.
Tomlinson, who didn't return after straining an abdominal muscle in the third quarter, had his first three-touchdown game of the season. Rivers threw his 33rd and 34th touchdown passes to break Hall of Famer Dan Fouts' 1981 team single-season record.
Denver (8-8) completed a monumental collapse, becoming the first team since division play began in 1967 to miss the playoffs after having a three-game lead with three weeks to go. Needing just one win to wrap up the division, the Broncos lost at Carolina, at home to Buffalo and then to the Chargers.
The Chargers were 5-1 in the division but 3-7 outside it, and had zero wins against playoff teams. San Diego will host Indianapolis on Saturday night. San Diego upset the Colts in the playoffs last year, but Indy won, 23-20, in San Diego on Nov. 23.
Denver won the first meeting between the increasingly bitter rivals on Sept. 14 with some last-minute help from referee Ed Hochuli. When the ball slipped from Jay Cutler's grasp and was recovered by Chargers inside linebacker Tim Dobbins, Hochuli ruled it an incomplete pass instead of a fumble. Hochuli later acknowledged his decision was wrong. However, by rule, the call could not be changed and Denver kept the ball. The Broncos scored on fourth down, followed by the winning two-point conversion.
San Diego scored twice in 18 seconds midway through the third quarter. Rivers threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to speedy Darren Sproles to make it 31-13. Defensive end Luis Castillo intercepted Cutler's deflected pass on the first play of the ensuing Denver drive, and Tomlinson then scored on his 14-yard run.
Tomlinson used a nice spin move to score on a 4-yard run late in the second quarter, adding to the 1-yard scoring run he had in the first period.
Sproles also scored on a 2-yard run in the fourth. He finished with 115 yards on 14 carries. Tomlinson had 96 yards on 14 carries.
* Phil Savage is out as general manager of the Cleveland Browns after four seasons, a person with knowledge of the decision told the Associated Press last night.
Savage, who joined the Browns in 2005, will no longer be with the team after the organization decided to go in another direction, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because there were still details of the move to work out. Savage had 4 years left on a contract extension he signed in May.
It is unclear whether Savage resigned or was fired by owner Randy Lerner.
Browns coach Romeo Crennel is expected to be dismissed today. Crennel, who was hired a few weeks after Savage, is 24-40 in four seasons in Cleveland. He dropped to 0-8 against Pittsburgh after the Browns were blanked 31-0 by the archrival Steelers in their season finale.
* New general manager Billy Devaney respects how hard the St. Louis Rams played in 12 games under interim coach Jim Haslett.
Whether the players' collective effort will be enough to outweigh 10 straight losses and save Haslett's job is another matter for Devaney. All Devaney and Haslett would publicly acknowledge after a 31-27 loss to Atlanta was that the Rams will conduct business as usual today. *