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3-11, 3-5 Home

San Diego wins 8th straight, division crown

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Those lightning-bolt decals streaking across
their helmets have never been more fitting. The San Diego Chargers
have shocked the NFL -- and maybe even themselves.

LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns,
Antonio Gates tied a league record with his 12th TD and San Diego
captured the AFC West title Sunday, sliding through the snow for a
21-0 win over the Cleveland Browns.

One season after a league-worst 4-12 mark, the Chargers (11-3)
won their eighth straight and earned their first postseason berth
since 1995 when Denver lost at Kansas city. They're division
champions for the first time since 1994.

"I've only been here for four years, but in some ways it feels
like eight," Tomlinson said. "To go from where we were to this is
awesome. I've dreamed of the playoffs for a long time, but it's
only been a dream."

Reality set in quickly. As the Chargers walked off the frozen
field, each player was handed an "AFC West 2004 Champions"
baseball cap.

"This feels great," said quarterback Drew Brees, who attempted
just six passes. "It's been a long road for San Diego fans and us.
It feels great because we weren't expected to do too much this
year. Instead of 11-3, a lot of people thought we'd be 3-11."

With a mistake-free offense and hard-nosed defense, coach Marty
Schottenheimer has led the Chargers to their longest win streak
since 1987 and turned them into the league's most unlikely success
story.

"We're riding the wave," fullback Lorenzo Neal said.

San Diego, which hasn't lost since Oct. 17, also showed it can
be a factor in the postseason regardless of climate. The Chargers
ignored the blowing snow, a game-time temperature of 18 and a
subzero wind chill to post their first shutout since 1993 and
easily handle the Browns (3-11), who lost their eighth straight.

After winning on the frozen shores of Lake Erie, the Chargers
should be prepared to play in frigid New England or Pittsburgh in
the playoffs.

"Our confidence is just snowballing with each performance,"
Gates said. "We're playing at a tremendous level and we want it to
continue."

Tomlinson scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, his 15th and 16th TDs
this season, and Gates tied a league single-season record for TD
catches by a tight end with a 72-yarder in the second quarter.

The shutout was the Chargers' first since Nov. 29, 1993, 31-0
over Indianapolis.

The Browns and about 40,000 of their heartiest fans shivered
through a home finale that was a microcosm of Cleveland's dismal
season. The Browns did little on offense and gave up big plays on
defense. Even when it caught a break, Cleveland couldn't
capitalize.

After recovering a fumbled punt, the Browns had first-and-goal
at the San Diego 5, but rookie quarterback Luke McCown was
intercepted in the end zone on the next play.

"I want to say I'm sorry," said Browns interim coach Terry
Robiskie, 0-3 since replacing Butch Davis. "This season turned
ugly."

The Chargers tried their best to block out the frosty
conditions. As they walked onto the field for pregame drills,
running back Jesse Chatman hollered, "Here come the boys from
California."

It took most of the first quarter for them to warm up. San Diego
caught a break on a questionable roughing-the-kicker call and
Tomlinson scored on a plunge for a 7-0 lead.

Tomlinson has scored a TD in 11 straight games, two shy of the
NFL record shared by John Riggins and George Rogers.

Gates, the former hoops star at nearby Kent State, made it 14-0
late in the first half. Left uncovered on first down, Gates caught
a pass at about the 50, tiptoed down the sideline and ran untouched
through the snow for the score.

"We worked on that play all week," said Gates, who tied Mike
Ditka (1961), Jerry Smith (1967), Todd Christensen (1983) and
Wesley Walls (1999) for the most TDs by a tight end in a season.

He and the Chargers want to make more history.

"This is one step," he said. "We want to go to the Super
Bowl."

Game notes
Browns RB Lee Suggs ran for 105 yards after missing three
games with a toe injury. His 26-yard run in the first quarter was
the longest against the Chargers this season. ... Browns DE Kenard
Lang sprained his right knee and didn't play in the second half.
... Former San Diego RB Hank Bauer, now a commentator for the
Chargers, said the sub-zero temperatures were nothing like the AFC
championship game on Jan. 10, 1982, in Cincinnati when the wind
chill was minus-59. "This is Jamaica compared to that," Bauer
said. The Bengals won 27-7. ... The Browns also were shut out in
their 2003 home finale, 35-0 to Baltimore.

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