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Tomlinson silences critics

Times Staff Writer

Led by LaDainian Tomlinson’s three touchdowns, the San Diego Chargers beat the St. Louis Rams, 38-24, in front of 66,598 at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday and ended local grumbling that the three-time All-Pro running back had “lost a step.”

As the Chargers (5-2) have shifted to more of a passing game behind new starter Philip Rivers, Tomlinson has played a less dominant role in Coach Marty Schottenheimer’s offense. Before Sunday, Tomlinson had one 100-yard rushing game.

As if to disprove the doubters, Tomlinson gained 183 yards in 25 carries and scored on runs of two and 38 yards and on a 25-yard pass from Rivers. He also set up a Nate Kaeding field goal with a 51-yard run and, after the Rams scored late in the fourth quarter, pounced on an onside kickoff.

“I was trying to find that step he supposedly lost,” Rivers said. “He was awesome.”

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Tomlinson deflected any praise for himself to his offensive line.

“Guys need to beat up on defensive linemen and linebackers,” he said. “When you start the game off with confidence, and hit them in the mouth, you start to see [defensive] guys who don’t want it anymore.”

Rams quarterback Marc Bulger completed 27 of 40 passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns, and Rivers was 15 of 23 for 206. Chargers running back Michael Turner scored on a 14-yard run.

In the third quarter, with the Rams (4-3) pushing for a touchdown, Chargers free safety Marlon McCree recovered a fumble by Rams running back Stephen Davis and ran 79 yards for a touchdown. It was never close again.

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The normally confident Schottenheimer acknowledged some doubts about his team’s ability to hold the Rams’ offense.

“I’ll be honest with you,” he said, “I didn’t have a good feeling going into this game today.”

Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, facing a possible four-game suspension, reportedly for steroid use, had five tackles and three sacks and received ovations from the crowd before, during and after the game. The greater test, Merriman suggested, will come when the Chargers play on the road.

“I’m sure I’ll hear a lot of things,” he said. “I just have to continue to go out and do what I do best, which is dominate.”

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tony.perry@latimes.com


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