LT reflects on pain of it all

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Oct 14, 2005

Year of milestones turns somewhat sour with nagging injury

By Kevin Acee

December 29, 2005

This being football, a game that requires secrecy and courage in large measure, LaDainian Tomlinson is not forthcoming with the details.

But this being Tomlinson, a man defined by his faith and sincerity, he will not lie, either.

Yesterday, seated in front of his locker after the second practice of a week that barely matters, Tomlinson would not deny that his rib injury is more severe than the bruise that it has been described.

"Yeah," he said, "of course, if it's still bothering me it's more than a bruise."

Asked what his injury is, his face contorted, he shrugged and then finally allowed that he won't say until after the season.

Tomlinson has played the three games since suffering the injury Dec. 4 with help from a protective jacket and pregame pain-killing injections.

So in the quest for answers as to why he has finished so poorly – other than an offensive line that has not consistently blocked well – it appears there may be no need to look beyond the limitations of a man whose center is cracked.

Again Tomlinson paused when asked how he has been affected the past month.

"At times it's been very hard," he said. "Just for the fact not being myself, knowing what I can do when I'm healthy. That's always the most frustrating thing, not being 100 percent and not doing the things you're usually able to do."

Tomlinson has not rushed for 100 yards or scored a touchdown in a game since Nov. 27 at Washington, when among his 184 yards and three toucIt is the first time in his five-year career he has endured such a long stretch without 100 yards or a TD.

Asked if Saturday's season finale against the Denver Broncos is important to him on a personal level, Tomlinson went on the offensive, evidently attuned to a murmur (if that) of questioning that has surfaced regarding his diminished production.

"I don't feel like I'm losing it at all," Tomlinson said. "I don't feel a state of panic like I have to do good, but I would like to end on a good note."

It was just last month that many who observe the NFL were abuzz over Tomlinson not only as an MVP candidate for this season but the possibility he could be the best to ever play his position.

He will not be MVP. And while he may yet prove to be the best all-around back history has known, the talk has been put aside for another year.

Going into the Dec. 4 game against the Raiders, Tomlinson was third in the league in yards from scrimmage, fifth in rushing and second with 19 touchdowns.

In the four games since, he has 335 total yards (just 284 rushing) and he has not scored.

The play on which Tomlinson was injured was a 3-yard run up the middle, at the end of which it appeared Raiders linebacker Danny Clark exacted a little extracurricular punishment on Tomlinson in the pile. Tomlinson finished with 86 yards that game and has not had more than 76 since.

"If that wouldn't have happened, there is no telling what would have happened," Tomlinson said.

He meant for himself as well as for the entire team.

Any one of a half-dozen plays might have been the difference between the Chargers making the playoffs and being where they are now. And that play should probably stand among the most important.

Tomlinson found it difficult to put into words exactly what he felt about this season for the team.

"It's kind of tough since the ultimate goal wasn't accomplished," he said. "I think the only positive is having the opportunity to have a 10-win season. Any time you have a 10-win season, you had a good season as a team. But the ultimate goal was to make the playoffs and play for a championship.

"I think the shocker of having 10 wins and not going to the playoffs, it's like, 'Heck, what did we accomplish?' "

As for his own season, it will be remembered that Tomlinson before the season was bold enough to declare his goal of 2,200 rushing yards. Sitting now at 1,370, he will likely come up some 700 or so short.

But this season must also be remembered for the milestones Tomlinson did achieve. He tied the NFL record by scoring a touchdown in 18 consecutive games. He became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons.

Should he score his 20th touchdown of the season on Saturday, he would break Chuck Muncie's 24-year-old team record. And with just 65 yards, he will break Lance Alworth's team record of 9,721 career yards from scrimmage.

"Personally, the season was solid," he said. "I hate that toward the end it kind of got away and I was dealing with injury. But I think it was a solid season."hdowns was a 41-yard scoring run on the second play of overtime.