Statement is loud and clear

The Chargers won the AFC Championship for the second time in three years behind one of the season's most brilliant offensive performances. Facing a Denver defense which came in as the league's No. 5 unit in points allowed, San Diego put up 48 points en route to a 28-point victory.

The offensive explosion was propelled by the usual culprits. LaDainian Tomlinson added three more scores, breaking the NFL record for most touchdowns in a single season (29) while extended to seven his streak of games with at least 100 yards rushing.

"Once I got over the pylon, my initial thought process was to bring every guy on the offensive unit over to share that moment," said Tomlinson of historic final touchdown. "When we're old and can't play this game anymore, them are the moments we are going to remember, that we'll be able to tell our kids, tell our grandchildren. We can talk about something special that we did. We made history today."

Antonio Gates had a huge day, too, catching seven passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. He had his way with a very talented Denver secondary; he snatched the ball away from six-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey for his first score and soared over seven-time Pro Bowler John Lynch for his second.

"That is the Gates we all know and the Gates we have," said Philip Rivers afterwards.

But the player who really seemed to spark the offense was Vincent Jackson. Filling in for the injured Keenan McCardell, Jackson came up with a big play whenever his team needed it. He caught passes of 35 and 55 yards, with the former flipping field position in the Chargers' favor and the latter setting up a 34-yard Nate Kaeding field goal.

All of the success downfield was sponsored by Rivers, who bounced back from two mediocre performances with a strong showing. He completed over 65 percent of his passes, good for 279 yards and two scores. More importantly, the offense didn't commit any turnovers.

The enormous offensive output made life easy on the defense, which was as healthy as it has been in nearly two months. Luis Castillo returned after missing four weeks with an ankle injury and made his presence felt in a big way.

With the Broncos trailing by 14 points midway through the fourth quarter and facing a fourth-and-2, Castillo blew by Denver guard Cooper Carlisle and sacked Jay Cutler, essentially sealing the win for San Diego.

Not to be outdone, Shawne Merriman continued his truncated bid for defensive MVP honors. He added two more sacks against the Broncos, upping his season total to a career-high 12.5. On the second sack, Merriman forced and recovered a fumble which set up Tomlinson's record-breaking score.

"I wasn't thinking about the sack," Merriman said. "I was just waiting for him to run the ball. I was thinking about him breaking that record."

This was a statement game for the Chargers. Although they have now won seven games in a row, the Bolts had not won by more than eight points since a week eight win over the Rams. Beating the Broncos in such a dominating fashion should remind the rest of the league just how good the Chargers truly are.

San Diego is now guaranteed no worse than the fourth seed in the AFC and has the inside track on top seed in the conference. And although the closing schedule is tough (Kansas City, at Seattle, Arizona), the Chargers will likely be favored in every game.

If the Chargers keep playing like they did on Sunday, the road to the Super Bowl may very well go through San Diego.


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