LaDainian Tomlinson, the forgotten man

There were numerous things to point to in the Chargers 28-24 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday. From penalties to failure to convert, phantom calls to third down efficiency. But where was LaDainian Tomlinson in all this? Not being used.

The only running back to ever catch 100 passes in a season and still gain over 1,000 yards was relegated to the role of a blocker. The same guy who has eclipsed the 2,000 yards from scrimmage mark of excellence in two of the past three years was just a banana peel on the field, meant to slip up the defense but not to be a factor.

He was kept in the backfield on the majority of the play calls, a blocking back with a blitzing defense.

"I guess they brought the blitz a lot and had me in blocking," Tomlinson said, shaking his head in disbelief at his own words.

Imagine this. . .

A blitz comes and the Chargers toss a swing pass to Tomlinson, their number one option. With more defenders rushing up the field towards quarterback Drew Brees – what would a blitz be without more defenders than normal trying to get in the backfield – the Chargers call for a little dump off to Tomlinson.

Tomlinson has fewer defenders to beat since they have brought an extra defender or two up to the line. With his talent and one step away from daylight ability, wouldn't it make sense to have his hands on the rock in crunch time?

"I guess (offensive coordinator) Cam (Cameron) felt like there was nothing I could do really," Tomlinson added.

In a game that is decided by one or two plays, Tomlinson did not have a pass thrown his way the entire game.

It is true the Chargers felt the way to beat the Cowboys was through the air as the running lanes were closed.

But why would they abandon the face of the franchise.

"We didn't throw the ball to him at all," Brees said. "That is partially my fault."

The problems didn't end there.

San Diego had a chance to come away with a victory with under a minute to go with first and goal from the seven. Drew Brees tried to hit Keenan McCardell on first down but the pass was broken up. He tried to hit Justin Peelle on second down but the pass floated too far. McCardell was the target again on third down and he could not come down with a tough catch. Fourth down the ball went to Eric Parker but Aaron Glenn tipped it in the air and intercepted it.

"We had a chance to win at the end of the game," said Brees. "We had four shots and we didn't capitalize. I will take it on myself because we threw it every down. We got four shots at it and I have to come through."

But the problems started long before that. Three times the Chargers had the Cowboys at third and long and gave away first downs due to penalties.

Another misfire that turned into the killing blow was a shot taken by the referees. A blank. A phantom.

With nine minutes and nine seconds to go in the third quarter, Shaun Phillips sacked Drew Bledsoe. Coming in from the other side was Luis Castillo. He came over the top of Bledsoe and missed his extra shot on the downed quarterback. At the end of the play, laundry was on the ground – a flag.

Castillo was called for roughing the passer. It gave the Cowboys life when they had none, pinned deep in their own territory. A three and out after the Chargers scored to take a seven point lead was blown away after Dallas drove down the field and tied the game.

"Whether it was right, wrong, or indifferent, you can't put yourself in position where the guy considers pulling it out of his pocket," said Schottenheimer.

Which brings it full circle back to LaDainian Tomlinson. Last year they used him three times in a row instead of trying to get the ball closer for a field goal. This year they don't use him and Antonio Gates wasn't available as a crutch.

Penalties are correctable. Brees with four chances in the final minute, odds are he connects next time around. But will they abandon Tomlinson in the future when the running game is having a bad day? They need to find a way to get him the ball or this will be a long season.

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