Rick Osentoski, Associated Press
DETROIT — Matthew Stafford led a victory-lap parade around the perimeter of Ford Field, high-fiving fans that have been waiting since 1999 for the Detroit Lions to make the playoffs.
With the crowd chanting "Play-offs! Play-offs!" as the final few minutes ticked away, Detroit clinched a postseason spot thanks to Stafford's three touchdown passes in a 38-10 win over the San Diego Chargers on Saturday.
Stafford appeared to be touched by the face-to-face interaction with fans hanging over the railing to reach his raised right hand.
"You could just get a sense of how much it meant to them," Stafford said. "It was fun to give them that kind of joy."
The Lions (10-5) have won three straight after a seven-game slump to earn an NFC wild card, turning around the franchise after it was bad enough just three years ago to become the league's only 0-16 team.
It was coach Jim Schwartz's idea to reach out and touch the fans.
"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.
Ford, whose first season leading the franchise was in 1964, was handed a keepsake in the jubilant locker room.
"We gave him the game ball," said center Dominic Raiola, who endured a string of miserable seasons after Detroit drafted him in 2001.
After Raiola's postgame news conference, he gave Stafford a bear hug.
"I'm excited for them, more than for myself and some of the other young guys," the 23-year-old Stafford said.
Music blared in Detroit's locker room, where players hugged teammates and anyone else who crossed their paths. Smiles might've outnumbered beads of sweat after a lopsided win that ended San Diego's playoff hopes.
According to the Chargers (7-8), they were eliminated from playoff contention. San Diego will miss the postseason for a second straight year after making it five times in a six-season stretch.
And, that might cost coach Norv Turner his job.
"I've been concentrating every week as well as I can on getting this team ready to play and doing the things we need to do," Turner said. "We all know that's something that's discussed at the end of the year."
San Diego stayed in playoff contention deep into December by winning three straight games, but couldn't overcome its midseason losing streak.
"When you lose six in a row in this league, you're probably not going to the postseason, but we fought our way back in it," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "You're hanging your hat on running the table, and going to beat playoff teams on the road, it's tough."
Knowing they could move into the postseason simply by winning, the Lions held San Diego scoreless until midway through the third quarter, when Rivers threw an 11-yard pass to Malcom Floyd to make it 24-7.
Detroit, though, closed strong to restore the rout.
The Lions and Buffalo Bills started the season with the league's longest playoff droughts at 11 seasons. Detroit's wait is over because a decades-long search for a franchise quarterback ended with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
"That's probably the key to a franchise is having a good quarterback and we'll hold onto him for a while," Schwartz said.
Coming off the league's only 0-16 season, Detroit selected Stafford and kept him healthy for the first time this season.
- Dick Harmon: So, another Kaufusi goes hybrid...
- Morning links: 4 Utahns on ESPN 300 football...
- Morning links: BYU's Eric Mika returns from...
- The BYU international basketball tracker: How...
- Niumatalolo and Navy make another trip to the...
- 2016 NFL draft: Local players who might hear...
- BYU football announces full spring fireside...
- BYU men's volleyball: Underwood and others...
- Morning links: BYU's Eric Mika returns... 70
- BYU basketball: Cougars to play USC... 45
- BYU volleyball: Cougars earn No. 1 seed... 26
- BYU's Kaufusi an intriguing NFL... 26
- Morning links: NFL Draft prospect news... 18
- Oakland Raiders owner says he will... 16
- 2016 NFL draft: Local players who might... 14
- Gobert 'disappointed' with 2015-16 but... 11