The New York Giants know that if they're going anywhere in the playoffs, they're going on the back of Tiki Barber.
Saturday night, Barber showed he's capable of carrying the team a very long way.
The 30-year-old running back powered the Giants with his third 200-yard rushing game of the season, gaining 203 yards on 28 carries, including a 95-yard touchdown dash, the longest run in team history. His MVP-caliber performance led the Giants to a 30-21 win over the Oakland Raiders, and locked up their first NFC East title in five years.
"It feels real good," veteran wide receiver Amani Toomer said. "We accomplished a lot. The so-called experts had us finishing last in the division. That goes to show how much they know."
Including the 60 yards he had on six catches, Barber had 263 total yards as the Giants earned a home playoff game next weekend. Their first-round opponent - Tampa Bay, Carolina, Washington or Dallas - will be determined on Sunday.
"This one means a lot and not just because of the NFC East title," said Barber, who suffered a mild ankle sprain in the fourth quarter, but returned for the next series. "There's been a lot going on for us this season. We have a lot of confidence right now. This game was very big for us."
Whoever they end up facing, the Giants (11-5) now go into the postseason with their confidence restored, especially since they managed to rediscover their big-play offense. They didn't get much out of Eli Manning (12-for-24, 204 yards) on Saturday night, but he did throw a career-long, 78-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, who had his best game in three months by catching five passes for 128 yards.
It was mostly Barber who helped the Giants spoil the revenge plans of ex-Giants quarterback Kerry Collins in what likely was Collins' final game as a Raider. Collins kept the game close by lighting up the Giants for 331 yards (26-for-48) and three touchdown passes.
But Collins' quest for revenge and the Raiders' (4-12) quest for victory ended with 2:40 remaining. After a pass interference penalty by Giants cornerback Terrell Buckley set the Raiders up at the 1, the Giants mounted a ferocious goal-line stand. They stuffed running back Zack Crockett for no gain on three straight runs.
Then on fourth down they stopped Collins short of the goal line on a quarterback sneak.
A few minutes later, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora gave Tom Coughlin his long-awaited Gatorade bath, and the Giants broke out the NFC East championship hats and T-shirts they've been hoarding since last weekend. Then they headed home for one more game in the friendly confines of Giants Stadium, where they are a dominant 8-1 this year.
"Nothing's ever easy, obviously," Coughlin said. "It was quite a game, right down to the last second. However, we won the game, we are the NFC East champs and we're very proud of that."
A key play of the game came midway through the first quarter, with the Giants backed up to their own 5-yard line. On a Raider blitz, Barber took the handoff, broke through the left side and, thanks to a Burress block, took off down the sidelines, where he got another block from Burress. That allowed him to finish off the longest run in Giants' history, breaking the 91-yard mark set in 1930, and to score the franchise-record 50th rushing touchdown of his career.
"That's the sign of a great player," Coughlin said. "He can realize the circumstances in which his team needs a boost and be able to give it."
Broncos 23, Chargers 7
At San Diego, John Lynch sent San Diego into a painful offseason.
The Denver safety, who's from San Diego, keyed the Broncos' win by knocking Drew Brees out of the game with a shoulder injury, then forcing Philip Rivers to fumble in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
Tatum Bell scored three touchdowns for Denver, but was held to 52 yards on 17 carries. He needed 131 yards for 1,000. He and Mike Anderson were trying to become the fourth running back tandem in NFL history to finish with 1,000 yards each.
The game, played on a rainy afternoon in front of a crowd that included thousands of Broncos fans, meant nothing in the standings.
Denver (13-3) had already clinched the AFC West title and a first-round bye.
San Diego (9-7), which won the division last year, lost three of its last four games.