SAN DIEGO - John Lynch met LaDainian Tomlinson head-on early in the first quarter, a collision of two star players following a simple 2-yard run.
Normally, they'd get up and get ready for the next play. Not this time. Tomlinson's helmet came off and Lynch took it with both hands and threw it about 10 yards, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the wrath of the crowd.
"I thought it was going to be that kind of a night, where even the good guys turn to bad guys," Tomlinson said.
It turned out to be a walkover for the Chargers, who beat the Denver Broncos, 23-3, last night, with Tomlinson closing in on his second straight NFL rushing title and San Diego getting closer to clinching the No. 3 playoff seed in the AFC.
If the Chargers get the third seed, that would mean a trip to Indianapolis rather than New England for the divisional round - providing they win their wild-card game.
Tomlinson had a 17-yard scoring run among his 107 yards before sitting out the bulk of the second half, already having scampered into the rushing lead with 1,418 yards. His route to another title was made easier when Pittsburgh's Willie Parker (1,316) broke his right leg last Thursday night, finishing his season.
LT's closest pursuer is Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson, who has 1,305 yards after being held to just 27 on nine carries in a loss to Washington Sunday night.
A few plays after their encounter, Lynch apologized to LT and the two shook hands.
"It is something I've never done in my career. I am embarrassed by it," said Lynch, a 15-year veteran safety who grew up in San Diego. "There are no excuses on that. I just lost my head for a second.
"I've always played hard. That's what I was doing there, but I went too far and I apologize for everything."
The tossed helmet went farther than most of Denver's offensive plays as the Broncos gained only 225 yards.
"Lynch is a competitor," Tomlinson said. "He's never been a player who would do something like that. But he told me that he lost his head and I accepted his apology."
The Chargers (10-5) won their fifth straight game and for the ninth time in 11 games. They need simply to win at Oakland Sunday to secure the third seed.
Tomlinson, the 2006 NFL MVP, had only four of his 19 carries in the second half.
He was on the sideline for San Diego's final drive of the first half, then carried four times during an 11-play, 84-yard drive capped by a 14-yard TD pass from Philip Rivers to Chris Chambers.
Tomlinson felt his hamstring grab following a 6-yard run, his final carry of the night, just as it did a week earlier against Detroit.
He was checked by trainer James Collins, and coach Norv Turner decided he'd carried enough.