It was indistinguishable at first, rising to a crescendo as the home crowd attempted to pull something out of its team that the Raiders couldn't manage to get out of themselves:

"Denver lost, Denver lost, Denver lost ... "

By that time, with about five minutes to play, the Raiders already trailed by the final score of 38-26, having been proven utterly defenseless in terms of stopping Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers on Sunday at O.co Coliseum.

All that was left was for one final indignity as Jacoby Ford slipped and fell on an out route by the Raiders bench, with Antoine Cason getting a gift interception from quarterback Carson Palmer with 4:36 to play and the Chargers happily running out most of what remained on the clock.

The Broncos (8-8) backed into the AFC West title on tiebreaking procedures, despite three consecutive losses. Denver hosts Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs next Sunday.

The Raiders, 8-8 for the second straight season, won just one of their final five games.

San Diego was also in the 8-8 logjam, but it was eliminated last week, playing for nothing except pride and the joy of taking out a division rival Sunday.

"To say I'm pissed off is an understatement," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said, a term he used nine times during his postgame news conference. "It didn't look like a football team that was hungry enough to go out and win the AFC West title."


Advertisement

Rivers and the San Diego offense looked nothing like the unit that was roughed up by the Raiders on Nov. 10, when Oakland registered six sacks and prevailed 24-17.

The Raiders barely laid a hand on Rivers, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 310 yards, three touchdowns and one interception against an Oakland secondary that put up only slightly more resistance than a group of cardboard cutouts.

Matt Giordano intercepted a deep Rivers heave on San Diego's first possession, but the Raiders gave ground the rest of the day. The Chargers, who never punted, also rushed for 153 yards on 31 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run by Mike Tolbert.

San Diego also had a 105-yard kickoff return by Richard Goodman, the first kick return touchdown surrendered by the Raiders in 28 games. That turned a 14-10 Chargers lead into 21-10 advantage and was a play Jackson thought gave a huge momentum boost to the Chargers.

The Raiders actually outgained the Chargers with 520 yards of offense led by Palmer's 28-for-43, 417-yard performance that included TD passes of 3 yards to Darrius Heyward-Bey and 22 yards to Kevin Boss.

But twice in the red zone the Raiders stalled, with Sebastian Janikowski kicking field goals of 27 and 32 yards to go along with others of 52 and 43 yards.

In the end, the Raiders were left to ponder how they came up empty with their season on the line.

The Raiders chose not to disclose out-of-town scores on the scoreboard to the 58,721 fans, but strong safety Tyvon Branch said players learned of Denver's loss from fans who began chanting of the Broncos' defeat.

"Words can't describe how disappointed we are," Branch said. "We had everything set up for us. We had a roller-coaster season and a chance to get in the big tournament, and we blew it."

If Goodman's kickoff return served as a big surge of momentum, the Raiders defense let another a potential game-breaking sequence get away after Palmer's touchdown pass to Boss got Oakland within 31-26 with 9:37 left.

Boss was hit in the back of the head by Steve Gregory, giving the tight end a concussion and the Chargers a personal foul. Janikowski, kicking off from midfield, lofted a pooch kick that was mishandled by Goodman, who then scrambled back into the end zone.

The Raiders nearly had a safety, with Goodman barely getting the ball to the half-yard line. A safety would have cut the deficit to 31-28, and San Diego would have been kicking off to the Raiders.

Instead, Rivers immediately got San Diego out of trouble with a 19-yard strike to Malcom Floyd (seven catches, 127 yards) and in less than three minutes had San Diego in the end zone on a 43-yard pass to Floyd -- a 99-yard drive in four plays.

"If you can't stop a team with everything on the line, you don't deserve to be a playoff team," defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "And we didn't get it done. So this one hurts."

Jackson had talked up the Chargers as a formidable opponent all week, even if they were out of the playoff race. He was left wondering if his team had relaxed after the early Giordano interception and a 95-yard touchdown drive on the Raiders' first possession.

"Maybe we thought it was going to be easy," Jackson said. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy."

Said Chargers coach Norv Turner: "That makes it even more special, the fact that we finished and played well and beat a good team that was fighting to get into the playoffs."

INSIDE

Trade for Carson Palmer doesn't live up to the hype. PAGE 6

Defensive shortcomings could cost Chuck Bresnahan. PAGE 6

AFC West crown comes down to wire. PAGE 6