Originally published Saturday, December 24, 2011 at 6:34 PM

Lions clinch first playoff berth since 1999

Matthew Stafford threw three touchdown passes in the first half as Detroit beat San Diego to snap a playoff drought more than a decade long.

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DETROIT — After a decade of losing, the Detroit Lions are in the playoffs.

And they made sure the San Diego Chargers are out.

With its fans chanting "PLAYOFFS! PLAYOFFS!" in the final minutes, Detroit got there for the first time since 1999 as Matthew Stafford threw three touchdown passes in the first half to beat the Chargers 38-10 Saturday.

The only team to go 0-16 (in 2008), the Lions (10-5) have won three straight to clinch a wild-card spot.

Coach Jim Schwartz and the players did a victory lap after the game, high-fiving fans in the front row at Ford Field.

"There's going to be a time that we don't celebrate getting to the playoffs, but it's not going to be tonight," Schwartz said. "It's been a long time coming."

No one has been waiting longer than owner William Clay Ford, whose first season leading the franchise was in 1964.

"We gave him the game ball," said center Dominic Raiola, who endured a string of miserable seasons after Detroit drafted him in 2001.

The Lions and Buffalo Bills started the season with the league's longest playoff droughts at 11 seasons. Detroit hadn't advanced since Barry Sanders was its star running back.

But the Lions' dry spell is finally over because a decades-long search for a franchise quarterback ended with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Lions selected Stafford and kept him healthy for the first time this season. He passed for 373 yards against San Diego, giving him a franchise-record 4,518 this season.

The Chargers (7-8) will not be in the postseason for a second straight year, which might cost coach Norv Turner his job.

Broncos' hopes

suffer big blow

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Tim Tebow picked a terrible time to run out of fourth-quarter comebacks.

Rather than inspiring Denver to another dramatic rally, Tebow sealed the most dreadful performance of his two-year career by throwing four second-half interceptions — two returned for touchdowns 18 seconds apart — in a 40-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

It happened as the Broncos (8-7) had a chance to inch closer to their first playoff berth in six years, and against a Bills team that was coming off seven straight losses.

"My confidence is just fine," Tebow said. "I tried to make something happen, and I tried to force it."

Denver fell into a tie with Oakland atop the AFC West. The Broncos close the season by hosting Kansas City, and still hold the tiebreaker edge over the Raiders.

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