Chargers aim to set the tone on Monday night

Star players save their best performances for the grandest of stages. When the Chargers start their season with a primetime showdown against the Raiders, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates will have the play like the stars they truly are.

The Chargers offense is in transition mode. Philip Rivers will make his first career start in Oakland, and rookie tackle Marcus McNeill will be protecting his blindside. Tomlinson and Gates know it is up to them to pick up the offensive slack and lead their team into and out of the Black Hole.

"The fans can be pretty rowdy, but we have dealt with them in the past," Tomlinson said. "It is a fun place to play, a fun atmosphere. It is nice to shut them up. They are talking all night and all of sudden they aren't talking anymore."

Tomlinson knows he has to have a strong outing. The offense must establish the running game in order to keep Derrick Burgess from teeing off on Rivers, and to keep Randy Moss and the explosive Raiders offense off the field. Although he has had success during recent run-ins with the Raiders, Tomlinson claims that means little come Monday.

"I never really get pumped up off the game I had before," he said.

When Tomlinson draws an eighth or even a ninth defender into the box, Rivers must capitalize. When he drops back to pass, his first look will almost always be to Gates.

"Players come to play in big games," Gates said. "This is one of those games for us - an AFC West game. It is imperative we come out with a win."

Gates is correct in that this game is more important than most. Leaving Oakland victorious would net the team both a road win and an in-division win. It would also go a long way towards dissuading any doubts that this team regressed with the departure of Drew Brees.

There may be no better stage to accomplish each of those tasks than on Monday Night Football against the rival Raiders.

"It is just exciting anytime you play on Monday night," Gates said.

The Chargers will no doubt be excited, but Raiders fans take excitement to a whole different – and slightly inappropriate – level.

"They have a way of expressing themselves that we all find very interesting," Coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

Despite the raucous Raiders fans, the Chargers have experienced much success as of late against their in-state rivals. They have beaten Oakland five consecutive times.

"We usually come up with a good scheme against these guys," Tomlinson said.

The scheme this year should be a simple one: get the ball to Tomlinson and Gates, and let the stars lead their team to victory.

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