Play of Tomlinson crucial to playoff success

The Chargers' defense got a lot of the credit for Sunday's win against Tampa but it has been the play of LaDainian Tomlinson that has really changed over the past few weeks. With the passing game faltering somewhat, Tomlinson has retaken his pedestal as the best back in the game.

"We wanted to come out and play with a chip on our shoulder," Tomlinson said.

It was a long road back to superstardom.

After the Tennessee game on October 3, LaDainian Tomlinson dealt with a groin injury that hampered his ability to make cuts and show explosion through the hole. The bye week helped and when he returned against Oakland he had his best day of the year, 164 yards of mileage on a season high 37 carries.

But the time in between was filled with disappointment and Drew Brees filling the air with touchdowns or setting up one yard scores for the running back. His average during that span was 2.8 yards per carry and his longest run traversed just 22 yards.

It was especially frustrating for Tomlinson because he had to tone down his game while on the mend.

"You have to adjust to it," he said of the worst stages of his injury. "You can't play to that certain level. You have to go at it a different way. That means doing straight down hill pounding and not trying to make as many cuts because it's not working for you."

Some things have been slower to return than others. The patented stiff arm hasn't been seen as much and Tomlinson seems hesitant to switch hands when he has a big hole. Perhaps he is thinking of Dante Hall.

Since his return to close-to-normal form, the Bolts have squeezed out close wins in each of the past four weeks. His legs have been the difference. He has over 100 yards from scrimmage in each game and in three of those has rushed for 100 plus yards. Only Kansas City was able to reign him in.

His 5.2 average on Sunday was the LT many fans have come to love and his 35 yard run a thing of beauty. Finally, the Chargers can say he is officially back and in vintage form.

"His presence, he's unbelievable," McCardell said. "I told him on the sidelines, ‘I'm on getting on your back, I'm going to ride you in.' He's in the groove. LT's in the zone, he's healthy. He's just a big part of the offense."

For all his woes this year, Tomlinson still has five 100-yard games on his resume and 1,143 yards rushing on the year with three games to go.

What he did on Sunday against Tampa was haul the rock and do what he does best, electrify the crowd.

"He really charges up on offense, 65,000 people he charges up in the stands," offensive tackle Roman Oben said. "What he does when the ball is in his hands ... you never know what he's capable of. He is by far the best running back I have ever played with."

Tomlinson may fall short of his quest for another 2,000 yards from scrimmage season, but there is a sense of pride among his blockers.

"There were a couple of blocks I could have done a little better, helped LT get a couple of extra yards," wide receiver Kassim Osgood said.

With 1,494 total yards from scrimmage 13 games into the 2004 season, Tomlinson will need to average over 168 yards per game in order to surpass 2,000 yards for the third straight year.

Although his persona off the field would say he is not up to the task, his teammates disagree because of his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality.

"His quiet demeanor vs. what he does with the ball in his hands," Oben said with a shake of his head.

He doesn't need to say anymore. With McCardell potentially out for the Bolts this week, it could be up to Tomlinson once again. Now that his supporting cast has been upgraded it has become evident that a good game from LT will equal a victory.

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