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...

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CLEVELAND — 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 yesterday, 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 playoff berth since 1995 when the Denver Broncos lost at Kansas City yesterday. The Chargers are division winners for the first time since 1994.

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“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 sub-zero 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.”


Darius ejected for hit


GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius was ejected after his clothesline hit sent Green Bay receiver Robert Ferguson to the hospital.

Darius swept in after Ferguson’s leaping 31-yard grab of Brett Favre’s pass at midfield. Darius hit the defenseless Ferguson across the neck, stunning the crowd and infuriating the Packers with 4:41 left in their 28-25 loss to the Jaguars.

Ferguson was knocked unconscious, according to teammates. He gave a thumbs-up as he left the field on a stretcher, but he didn’t regain feeling in his legs until he had left for a hospital, coach Mike Sherman said.

“I thought it was a cheap shot,” Sherman said.

Referee Ed Hochuli ejected Darius and assessed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“It’s part of the game,” Darius said. “Brett threw the ball, and Ferguson was wide open. I was just running over trying to make a play, trying to separate him from the ball. I never intentionally try to hurt someone. I love to play the game and I play it 100 mph. Unfortunately, he got hurt. I pray for him. Everybody that saw it from our standpoint said it looked clean.”

Packers tight end Bubba Franks said ejecting Darius was a good call because “I’m pretty sure it would have gotten out of hand if he’d have stayed in the game.”


Colts, city agree to stadium deal


INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts and the city of Indianapolis have agreed on a deal to build a 63,000-seat stadium with a 30-year lease.

Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, team owner Jim Irsay and other officials announced the deal on the field of the RCA Dome before the Colts’ game last night.

The deal also would allow the city to expand the Indiana Convention Center, which is adjacent to the RCA Dome, bringing the cost of the project to about $800 million.

The stadium, to be located about a block south of the RCA Dome, is scheduled to open by fall 2008. It will include a retractable roof similar to the Houston Texans’ Reliant Stadium and be expandable to 70,000 seats so the city can host Super Bowls.

At 55,506, the RCA Dome has the smallest seating capacity among current NFL stadiums.

Notes

• In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” former Miami RB Ricky Williams said he quit this year because he didn’t want people to find out he smoked marijuana. He also told interviewer Mike Wallace that he could not pass a drug test today and said he had no reason to apologize for leaving the Dolphins, who are 2-11 this season.

• The Kansas City Chiefs became the first team to have three backs each rush for more than 150 yards in different games in one season. Larry Johnson had 151 yesterday in a 45-17 victory over the Denver Broncos, matching the amount Priest Holmes had against the Broncos earlier in the season. Derrick Blaylock rushed for 186 against the New Orleans Saints.