|Nate Kaeding swings into action, booting a 52-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to give San Diego its ninth straight victory and fourth consecutive AFC West title. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)|
Chargers sustain surge
Late field goal tops sorrowful Bengals
SAN DIEGO - By the time the San Diego Chargers could exhale yesterday, they had clinched their fourth straight AFC West title as well as pulling out a dramatic win over the grieving Cincinnati Bengals.
Nate Kaeding kicked a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left and the Chargers rallied for a 27-24 win over the Bengals, who got a tying 34-yard field goal by Shayne Graham 51 seconds earlier.
A few minutes after the Chargers (11-3) secured their ninth straight victory, and with several thousand fans still in the stadium, the Chargers clinched the division when Denver lost to Oakland.
“It’s all kind of a blur,’’ said Kaeding, who hadn’t yet gotten a division championship cap until team president Dean Spanos walked by in the locker room and gave the kicker his.
Some Chargers watched on TV as the Broncos, who led the Chargers by 3 1/2 games Oct. 19, lost, 20-19, to the Raiders.
“It’s an incredible feeling,’’ star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman said.
The Chargers improved to 17-0 in December since 2006.
Kaeding’s winning kick came after Philip Rivers moved the Chargers 46 yards in 51 seconds with no timeouts and backup center Dennis Norman snapping after Scott Mruckzkowski sprained an ankle.
“We just did what we had to do to get it done,’’ said Rivers, who threw three touchdown passes, two to Vincent Jackson.
“Philip’s the man. I wouldn’t want anybody else under center there for us,’’ said Kaeding, who added that it was one of his biggest kicks.
“There was a lot of adrenaline in that kind of situation, coming down to the wire and going for the win,’’ Kaeding said. “Once it came off my foot, I knew it was good, and mayhem ensued from there.’’
Cincinnati (9-5), which failed for the second straight week to clinch the AFC North, was playing three days after the death of receiver Chris Henry.
“The main thing we want people to realize is that Chris is a guy who turned his life around and this football team had done the same thing,’’ tackle Andre Whitworth said. “He signifies what we are.’’
After Chad Ochocinco caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to give the Bengals a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter, the receiver got down on both knees and touched his heart with his right hand.
“It was a little empty feeling,’’ Ochocinco said. “It was bigger than football without him. Today I played with an extra set of hands, an extra set of legs, and an extra heart.’’
Palmer said he’s never experienced four days like the Bengals have, calling Henry’s death and then having to play a game “almost surreal.’’ He said it won’t sink in until the team attends Henry’s funeral tomorrow.
Keith Rivers’s interception early in the fourth quarter set up Palmer’s 2-yard TD pass to Laveranues Coles and Palmer’s conversion run got Cincinnati within 24-21.