Tomlinson's dream a reality

It began as a dream. Even in training camp, LaDainian Tomlinson didn't really think it was possible. His vision spoke of eight wins and even that seemed far-fetched. A strange thing happened as he cut through the hole. The Chargers won 12 games and have a chance for four more.

"To go from where we were to this is awesome," Tomlinson said. "I've dreamed of the playoffs for a long time, but it's only been a dream."

Making it downright eerie, LaDainian Tomlinson hurt his groin during the season and wasn't 100 percent for a good portion of the year. But he still put up stunning totals, topping 1,300 yards rushing and scoring 17 rushing touchdowns, including a touchdown in 12 straight games, one less than the NFL record.

He also sat out the season finale in preparation of the playoffs – his first of what he hopes are many chances at the postseason.

"I'm fresher going into this week," Tomlinson said. "I think Marty (Schottenheimer) did the right sitting guys. We don't have a bye week, but we had an opportunity to rest guys. It was very smart on his part to rest guys.

"It's an opportunity I've been waiting for in my short career. I'm excited. I can't wait to see what this playoff atmosphere is all about."

His short career already has made its mark on the Chargers' record book. Tomlinson is the Chargers' all-time leader with 54 career rushing touchdowns. He is also the team's all-time leading rusher with 5,899 career yards. He set both records this season.

Tomlinson became just the ninth player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first four professional seasons.

Tomlinson is in select company in another category. He is just the third player in NFL history to score ten or more rushing touchdowns in his first four NFL seasons. Tomlinson rushed for 10 as a rookie in 2001; 14 in 2002, 13 in 2003, and 17 this year.

Now the face of the Chargers is poised for primetime – the playoffs.

"I don't know what to expect," he said. "But I know the type of effort and passion I'll play with Saturday night."

The Bolts are 12-3 all-time when Tomlinson crosses the goalline twice in the same game. That is the kind of passion the Chargers are hoping for. And given the inclement weather expected on Saturday, Tomlinson's role figures to be bigger than usual.

This year, Tomlinson hasn't had to carry the team on his back. It has been a combination of factors that have brought the team to its current state.

Make no mistake, however, he is the heart and soul of the team and his uncanny ability to make people miss opens up many other areas of the offense and his ground game keeps the defense off the field.

"With our run threat and the threat of L.T. standing back there, that tends to open up the passing game," quarterback Drew Brees said. "It works hand in hand. Our ability to run the football helps the passing game."

There is a bounty on his head this week. With a field that will be slick and just a foreshadow of the type of game that will be played in subsequent playoff rounds, expect the best from Tomlinson.

"You have to play like this may be your last opportunity to get to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl," he added. "You have to play with that kind of chip on your shoulders."

The Jets are expecting a healthy dose of Tomlinson on Saturday. They would be fools not to. Their plan of attack is similar to the Chargers – stop the run.

"You always want to start with the run," Jets' coach Herm Edwards said. "Get the run settled down. Make them one-handed."

That will be a difficult task with Tomlinson in the backfield. His four-year career has already given him regular season records but now he wants to make that same mark on the postseason.


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