SAN DIEGO - By the time the San Diego Chargers could exhale, they had clinched their fourth straight AFC West title and pulled out a dramatic win over the grieving Cincinnati Bengals.
Yes, it was a crazy several minutes at Qualcomm late yesterday afternoon.
Nate Kaeding kicked a 52-yard field goal with 3 seconds left and the Chargers rallied for a 27-24 win over the Bengals, who got a tying 34-yard field goal by Shayne Graham 51 seconds earlier.
A few minutes after the Chargers (11-3) secured their ninth straight victory, and with several thousand fans still in the stadium, the Chargers clinched the division when Denver lost to Oakland.
"It's all kind of a blur," said Kaeding, who hadn't yet gotten a division championship cap until team president Dean Spanos walked by in the locker room and gave the kicker his.
Some Chargers watched on TV as the Broncos, who led the Chargers by 3 1/2 games on Oct. 19, lost 20-19 to the Raiders.
"It's an incredible feeling," star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman said.
The Chargers improved to 17-0 in December since 2006.
Cincinnati (9-5), which failed for the second straight week to clinch the AFC North, was playing 3 days after the death of receiver Chris Henry. He died Thursday, a day after falling out of the back of a pickup truck during what police described as a domestic dispute with his fiancee in Charlotte, N.C. Henry was on injured reserve and out for the season.
"The main thing we want people to realize is that Chris is a guy who turned his life around and this football team had done the same thing," tackle Andre Whitworth said. "He signifies what we are."
After Chad Ochocinco caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to give the Bengals a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter, the receiver got down on both knees and touched his heart with his right hand.
"It was a little empty feeling," Ochocinco said. "It was bigger than football without him. Today I played with an extra set of hands, an extra set of legs and an extra heart."
The Bengals wore decals with Henry's No. 15 on their helmets. Several Bengals fans brought signs remembering Henry, including a simple "RIP 15."
Quarterback Carson Palmer said he's never experienced 4 days like the Bengals have, calling Henry's death and then having to play a game "almost surreal." He said it won't sink in until the team attends Henry's funeral tomorrow.