SAN DIEGO - Jerry Rice and the Oakland Raiders can thank their defense for a return trip to the playoffs.
Tackle Darrell Russell and William Thomas intercepted Doug Flutie's passes to kill San Diego drives and the Raiders beat the Chargers 13-6 in a wild finish Saturday to clinch their second straight AFC West title.
The Raiders (10-3) became the first team to clinch a playoff spot. The Chargers (5-9) lost their seventh straight game and were booed in their own stadium by a sellout crowd that was probably 50 percent Raiders fans.
Trailing 10-6 with 11:35 left to play, Rice reached for a pass from Rich Gannon, inadvertently batted it into the air and saw it picked off by safety Rodney Harrison.
The Chargers moved to the Raiders 2 and Flutie tried to hit Curtis Conway at the goal line, but the pass was underthrown and went right to Thomas at the 3 for his second pickoff of the game. Thomas lateraled to safety Charles Woodson, who returned it to the Raiders 44.
That set up Sebastian Janikowksi's 31-yard field goal with 1:07 left.
The Raiders also survived a blunder by punt returner Tim Brown, who called for a fair catch early in the fourth quarter and had the ball bounce off his right arm and roll to San Diego's Ronney Jenkins at the Raiders 15. But the Chargers, one of the NFL's most inept teams inside the 20, had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Steve Christie to pull to 10-6.
A week earlier, Brown's 88-yard touchdown on his first punt return in three years was the difference as Oakland held off Kansas City 28-26.
The Chargers moved to the Oakland 23 in the final seconds, but Jeff Graham couldn't hold onto Flutie's fourth-down pass at about the 7.
The game's only touchdown, a 40-yard pass from Gannon to Rice, was set up when Russell, who's appealing a suspension for a positive drug test, intercepted Flutie's pass to kill a San Diego drive at the Oakland 12.
Russell, who grew up in San Diego, broke off his block and picked off Flutie's sidearm pass intended for running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Raiders moved 88 yards, the last 40 coming on third-and-5 when Rice juked second-year strong safety Rogers Beckett to get open, catching the ball at the 15 and breezing in for a 10-3 lead.
It was Rice's ninth TD catch this year. He had three in a 34-24 win over San Diego in Oakland four weeks ago.
Rice, who holds every significant NFL receiving record, joined the Raiders as a free agent in June after spending the previous 16 seasons across the bay in San Francisco. This will be his first playoff appearance since 1998, when the 49ers lost in the divisional round to Atlanta.
The game was tied 3-3 at halftime. Janikowski kicked a 20-yard field goal and Christie a 29-yarder.
Tomlinson, a rookie, was held to just 46 yards, his second-lowest total this season. Gannon completed 20 of 28 passes for 221 yards, with one interception. Flutie was 17 of 31 for 175 yards and three interceptions.
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