Tomlinson's Hex against Denver

LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the league's top backs, but in three games against the Broncos he has carried the ball 53 times for 181 yards (3.4 yards a carry) without a touchdown. He's coming off a season-low 45 yards against Miami on Sunday.

Now he faces his toughest challenge of the season. It is all about coaching and attitude according to LaDainian Tomlinson.

"Marty Schottenheimer," said Tomlinson, the NFL's second-leading rusher with 1,098 yards. "Just the attitude he has and not letting guys slack off. Guys are just paying more attention to detail.

"And also we're a year more experienced. Last year I was a young guy and our offensive linemen were in their first year of starting. And we didn't have the same attitude as we have this year."

These games are crucial as a team is defined by how they play late in the year. Many teams are good for the first two months of the season but going back on history teams are remembered for either their collapse at the end of the season or their rise to the occasion with wins during November and December.

"How you're playing in December and January usually determines how far you go," Bronco head coach Mike Shanahan said. "I think the only thing different this year is that there are 14 (AFC) teams that have a legitimate chance to be in the playoffs. But this is very early in the season to decide who's going to be in the playoff hunt."

"I've always tried to set very high standards to pursue and I think we can gain ground and make progress," Schottenheimer said of the stretch run. "When you look at the NFL today, with a few exceptions, if you go out and play as well a you're capable of playing, you can win. I'm not just talking about San Diego, I'm talking about anybody. You've got a good chance of beating the other guy because he's basically the same team as you are.

"I've never seen anything like it to be frank with you."

The Broncos have allowed a league-best 3.4 yards per rush this year on a league best lowest average of 21.5 carries per game, a statistic all the more impressive when considering that the Broncos are one of just three teams in the NFL to have faced each of the top four rushers in the league (New England and the New York Jets are the others).

The passing game also took a hit yesterday when word filtered out that Curtis Conway, the teams leading receiver, is questionable for Sunday's game.

"Everyone needs to step up," Tomlinson said. "That's what happens when you lose a marquee player. It puts us in a hard position if Curtis is not playing."

Said Schottenheimer: "We better block and run better."

Entering Sunday's game, Tomlinson is 147 yards from breaking his franchise record of 1,603 combined yards from scrimmage set as a rookie last year. If he can reach that figure on Sunday, either with a big day on the ground or through another balanced effort, it will go a long way toward securing a win for the Chargers.

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