Talk the Talk

The Chargers' star players have proven they can fill up a quote board, but how about a stat sheet? Shawne Merriman and LaDainain Tomlinson publicly questioned their team's character following a 24-17 loss in Jacksonville, yet neither player has lived up to last year's lofty standards.

The Chargers were the envy of the league in 2006 with the most dominant player on both sides of the ball. LaDainian Tomlinson led the league in rushing (1,815 yards) and set a single-season record with 31 touchdowns. Shawne Merriman led the league with 17 sacks despite playing in only 12 games.

This season has been a different story. Tomlinson has been held under 100 yards in four consecutive games and finished with less than 80 yards in seven of 10 contests.

"We're in a stretch where we've played some real good run defenses," Norv Turner said. "We've played a group of teams that have over-committed to the run and shown a lot of eight-man fronts. Teams have looked at us and said, ‘Don't let L.T. and this offensive line beat you.'"

Merriman has 5.5 sacks in 10 games, a per-game total less than half of last season's 1.4. He was handled by Indianapolis Colts third-string LT Michael Toudouze in week 10 and lit up by 5-foot-7 Maurice Jones-Drew in week 11.

Bottom line: these team leaders need to critique themselves before they criticize their peers.

Philip Rivers, who has absorbed the brunt of the criticism from media and fans alike, has become the steadying voice of reason.

"I know people are tired of hearing ‘We're getting better, we're this close away,' but that's the truth. We feel like we're just inches away," Rivers said.

In Tomlinson's defense, he has backed off the inflammatory statement in which he said some players cared more about paychecks than playoffs. Tomlinson claims he was expounding upon one of Merriman's comments from an earlier, ill-advised rant.

If Tomlinson would spend less time watching his Visio and more time watching his offensive teammates, he would see that several players laid it all on the line against the Jaguars.

Chris Chambers was scrapping for balls in double coverage. Rookie receivers Craig Davis and Legedu Naanee did their part, too, setting career highs in yards and receptions, respectively.

"The good thing about having Buster and Legedu playing is that they add a little energy and are able to contribute," Turner said.

Tomlinson believes the Chargers are a playoff team, if only for their choice positioning in the NFL's worst division. Week after week he waits for his peers to flip the switch, yet everyone knows he has to be the guiding light.

"Your mindset is you just want to get in (to the playoffs) because you always feel like anything can happen," Tomlinson said. "That's how you have to feel when you're 5-5 and you're struggling to put consecutive wins together."

A team with San Diego's talent has every right to believe that it can make noise in the playoffs, even on the heels of a lackluster regular season. However, the Chargers have no right to assume anyone other than Tomlinson or Merriman will lead the charge.

It's curious when the players making the big money are the ones calling out their peers for greedy and selfish play. Stars are paid to carry teams, and thus far San Diego's intergalactic duo is falling short.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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