His 104 scores make his case
We’re at the point where any San Diego Chargers victory can be summarized in two words.
This goes back to Nov. 19, when between updates I saw a 24-7 San Diego deficit against Denver turn into a 35-27 Chargers victory and I text-messaged a friend to ask what happened.
My buddy’s reply: “LT happened.”
Flash-forward to Sunday, when the Chargers had to deal with a strong Oakland Raiders defensive effort, a shaky performance by quarterback Philip Rivers and a 14-7 Raiders lead in the fourth quarter.
How did the Chargers win 21-14?
In the fourth quarter, LaDainian Tomlinson threw a touchdown pass, broke off a 44-yard run and finished a drive with a 10-yard touchdown.
“Everybody understands where we start and where we finish on offense,” Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer said. “It’s with him.”
The NFL’s No. 1 scoring threat, the fantasy football force, did his thing. LT happened. Let’s keep it at that.
Trust me, it’s a lot easier than trying to explain the action and the extended officials’ ruling on a pivotal fourth-quarter play that led to the game-tying score.
On fourth and two from the Oakland 40-yard line, Rivers threw a pass that was caught by a diving Vincent Jackson for a 13-yard gain. A hyped Jackson hopped up and flipped the ball to the ground. Trouble was, he hadn’t been touched by a defender while he was down, meaning the play was alive.
The officials initially considered it a fumble recovered by the Raiders. Then they huddled and determined that Jackson had thrown the ball forward, making it an illegal forward pass and a five-yard penalty -- which still gave San Diego enough yardage for a first down. Big break for the Chargers, but it took Tomlinson to cash it in.
The Chargers got the ball to Oakland’s 19, where Rivers tossed the ball to Tomlinson, who drew all the Raiders defenders’ attention. Antonio Gates ran all by himself into the end zone, where Tomlinson found him for the sixth touchdown pass of his career.
Game tied. Long story short, LT happened.
The next time San Diego got the ball, LT happened again.
The Raiders had kept him in check most of the game. Tomlinson’s second-quarter touchdown was mostly a byproduct of Antonio Cromartie’s 91-yard kickoff return. LT’s longest run in the first three quarters was eight yards. For most of the afternoon Tomlinson dutifully ran between the tackles for short gains.
With slightly less than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Tomlinson took a handoff, started inside, then dashed out to open field on his right, moving from the San Diego 33 to the Oakland 23.
“Sometimes throughout the course of a game, you are setting up the defense,” Tomlinson said. “Keeping it play side, keeping it play side, making them think you’re going to do that all day. And then one play they overrun it and you are out the back door and cut it all the way back.”
He made it sound so simple. Then again, he makes it look so simple, to the point we expect it.
“You don’t know when, but you know it’s coming,” Chargers receiver Keenan McCardell said. “You just say, ‘OK, OK. He’s going to pop one.’ Then all of a sudden he does.
“He’s like a great shooting guard. When he gets hot, you just keep feeding him.”
If that’s the simile, then the closest thing Southern California has seen to Tomlinson’s run of 21 touchdowns in seven games is the stretch of nine consecutive 40-point games Kobe Bryant had in 2003.
“What he’s doing, in 10 years from now when you mention his name, you’re going to have to say, ‘One of the ... ‘ or ‘The ...’ ” Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal said.
The numbers alone force Tomlinson into the discussion. He eclipsed 100 touchdowns in 89 games, four games faster than Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith. He’s at 104 now, in the top 15 all-time; his 93 rushing touchdowns are eighth best. If he throws two more touchdown passes, he will tie Walter Payton’s record (eight) for the most thrown by a non-quarterback.
Brown, Smith, Payton ... some of the ultra-elite names. Brown still has to top the list. Payton was more athletic, but I’d take Tomlinson over Smith. Barry Sanders doesn’t get love from the hard-core NFL heads, but ask any defensive player who ever tried to tackle him how difficult that was.
Tomlinson should be mentioned with Peyton Manning as the top candidates for the NFL most valuable player this season. And the way things are going Atlanta’s 2001 draft-time decision to trade Tomlinson for Michael Vick is starting to look Bowie-over-Jordan foolish.
And here’s a piece of advice for those fantasy league owners lucky enough to have him: If you meet him, show a little appreciation.
“They don’t ever really say thank you,” Tomlinson said of his encounters with fantasy players. “Most of the time, it’s all about the next game, what have you done for me lately? It’s always, ‘LT, I need two touchdowns.’ ‘I need 100 yards.’ ”
As a fan of the game, I’ll say thanks, for the performance on the field and the community involvement off it -- “He’s a better man than he is a player,” Neal said.
As a sportswriter, I’ll say thanks for making the job a lot easier.
LT happened. End of story.
J.A. Adande can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more by Adande, go to latimes.com/adandeblog.