SAN DIEGO — Clinching a playoff berth is a mere formality for the Kansas City Chiefs.
No one could be happier than Tony Gonzalez, the star tight end who has suffered through a long dry spell since the last time the Chiefs reached the postseason.
Gonzalez caught two touchdown passes, including the decisive score, and Priest Holmes ran 31 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Chiefs to a 28-24 win against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
“I take huge satisfaction, considering what I’ve been through the last seven years here, coming in here my first year and winning the AFC West, and then not even getting close to it since then,” Gonzalez said.
The Chiefs (11-1), the NFL’s best team, can do no worse than tie for the AFC West title. They could have won it outright Sunday, but Denver won at Oakland. The Chiefs can make it official if they win at Denver Sunday.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re not done yet,” Gonzalez said. “We have to stay humble, stay hungry and go out there and get ready because we’ve got a tough game next week out there in Denver.”
The Chiefs last made the playoffs in 1997, back when Marty Schottenheimer was their coach. They finished 13-3 and clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs, only to be upset by Denver in the divisional round.
Schottenheimer is now coach of the Chargers (2-10). This is the first time in his 17 full seasons as an NFL head coach that his team will finish with at least 10 losses.
“It wasn’t one of our best performances, but anytime you can get a win, especially in the situation that we’re in, it does mean a lot,” said Chiefs quarterback Trent Green, who was San Diego’s third-stringer 10 years ago.
San Diego’s Doug Flutie made this one interesting, until he started turning over the ball in the final 11 minutes. Flutie helped trim the Kansas City lead from two touchdowns to 21-17 late in the third quarter.
But he had two turnovers in the fourth quarter. The biggest came when he dropped a snap while in the shotgun formation, which was recovered by Kansas City’s Gary Stills at the San Diego 27 with 11:18 to play.
“It came in low and hard and caught my knee,” Flutie said. “That was a real missed opportunity.”
After Holmes carried seven straight times, Green found Gonzalez wide open for a 3-yard touchdown pass and a 28-17 lead with 6:28 to play.
Flutie had the Chargers moving again, but was intercepted in the end zone by safety Greg Wesley with 4:07 left.
Gonzalez was worried that Flutie might pull it out. Plus, the Chiefs had lost four of their past five games in San Diego.
“It was a relief just because of the history of coming out here, and we knew we were going to get their best shot,” Gonzalez said. “We know we’re going to get the best shot of anyone we play from here on out. We’ve got to. We’ve got the best record in the NFL, and teams are gunning. They want to prove something against us.”
Flutie did throw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates as time expired, but as usual for the Chargers, it wasn’t nearly enough.
Green completed 17 of 30 passes for 155 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, both by Quentin Jammer. Flutie was 16-of-34 for 213 yards, also with two touchdowns and two pickoffs. San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson had 106 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries.
“No solace in coming close,” Chargers defensive end Marcellus Wiley said. “We had opportunities to make plays. We’re making progress, we’re growing, but as we grow, it’s ugly.”
San Diego’s Steve Christie missed two field goals in the first half. A 40-yard attempt was tipped and went wide left, and a 48-yard try was short.
Flutie’s scrambling helped the Chargers pull to 21-17 in the third quarter.
Christie connected from 21 yards. Tomlinson gained 55 yards on the second play of the next Chargers’ possession, and Flutie finished it with a 20-yard touchdown pass to David Boston in the back left corner of the end zone. Flutie made the play work by scrambling around, which pulled cornerback Dexter McLeon off Boston.
After a slow start by the Chiefs, Holmes scored on runs of 7 and 2 yards on consecutive drives for a 14-0 lead. Tomlinson had a 6-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter.
The Chiefs again took a two-touchdown lead when Gonzalez shook off former Chiefs linebacker Donnie Edwards to catch a 7-yard touchdown pass from Green.