DETROIT — San Diego's last-ditch playoff push fell short for the second year in a row.
Matthew Stafford threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns, and the Detroit Lions ended the Chargers' chances of reaching the postseason with a 38-10 victory over San Diego on Saturday. Detroit clinched a playoff berth of its own — the team's first since the 1999 season — and left the Chargers on the outside.
San Diego (7-8) had won three straight after a six-game losing streak to keep its postseason hopes alive. Last season, San Diego missed the playoffs despite winning seven of its last nine.
"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," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "When you're hanging your hat on running the table, and going to beat playoff teams on the road, it's tough."
The Lions (10-5) have won three straight to earn an NFC wild-card spot. Following the game, coach Jim Schwartz and the players did a victory lap at Ford Field, high-fiving fans in the front row.
"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."
The loss could put Chargers coach Norv Turner's job in jeopardy.
"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."
Antonio Gates, who is from Detroit, had four receptions to give him 588 in his career, breaking the Chargers' record of 586 set by Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner.
"It would have had some substance to it had we won," Gates said. "My family was here and my friends were here — people who have watched me grow up, watched me mature as a man. It's a part of my life, since I was a kid. They were all here, and it's just disappointing that we couldn't get a victory along with me crossing that milestone."
The Chargers trailed 24-0 at halftime before a short-lived rally in the third quarter. Rivers threw an 11-yard pass to Malcom Floyd, then San Diego recovered an onside kick and drove deep into Detroit territory. But the Chargers had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Nick Novak.
The Lions answered with a 6-yard touchdown run by Kevin Smith to make it 31-10 with 16 seconds left in the quarter.
Early in the fourth, San Diego had the ball at the Detroit 2, but Rivers threw four straight incompletions to turn the ball over on downs.
"We moved it," Rivers said. "It wasn't like we were going out and hitting three-and-out."
The Lions and the Buffalo Bills started the season with the NFL'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 draft. Coming off the league's only 0-16 season, Detroit selected Stafford and kept him healthy for the first time this season.
Stafford got off to a good start Saturday, lobbing a pass into double coverage to Calvin Johnson for a 46-yard gain on the first snap.
Stafford was almost perfect in the first half, completing 21 of 26 passes for 260 yards with three TDs. He capped the first drive with a 7-yard scoring pass to Brandon Pettigrew, threw a 3-yarder to Kevin Smith in the second quarter and connected with Calvin Johnson from 14 yards just before halftime to give the Lions a 24-0 lead.
San Diego, meanwhile, had the ball for only 9:44 in the first half.
The Chargers needed to extend their winning streak to four games to remain in the playoff hunt, but the loss and Cincinnati's victory dashed their hopes.
"Every loss is disappointing, but knowing you are not going to the playoffs is even more disappointing," linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "There are going to be positives in your life, there's going to be negatives in your life, so it's what you do with those negatives."
Rivers was 28 of 53 for 299 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, the second of which defensive end Cliff Avril snagged with his right hand and returned 4 yards to the end zone to make it 38-10 late in the game.
San Diego had made the playoffs five times in six years before the last two seasons.
"It's hard to put into words," Gates said. "I think disappointment is an understatement."