The formula: LT³

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Oct 14, 2005

By Kevin Acee

Tomlinson catches scoring pass, runs for TD and throws one as Chargers pound Raiders; Defense steps up during offensive funk in 2nd half

OAKLAND – History is darting this way and that, crossing the goal line in front of our eyes.

In a stadium and against a team that seem to always energize him, LaDainian Tomlinson yesterday took one his most impressive steps toward being unparalleled.

At this point, it is safe to say he is better than he has ever been.

His teammates see it. His coach sees it.

The man himself, his talent exceeded only by his humility, feels it.

"I really think I am," Tomlinson said. "They say your fifth year you come into your own and the game kind of slows down for you. That's exactly what's happening for me. This is the prime of my career right now."

On a day in which the Chargers defense bent but finally did not crumble, an offense hobbled through the final 30 minutes and Raiders receiver Randy Moss was driven from the game in the first quarter by a groin injury, Tomlinson was epic.

He caught a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass as the Chargers beat the Raiders 27-14 yesterday at McAfee Coliseum.

It was just the fifth time in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) that a player has accomplished the run-pass-catch touchdown trifecta.

Tomlinson played a part in every Chargers touchdown – all in the first 28 minutes – as the Chargers improved to 3-3 and ran their win streak against the Raiders to four games (for the first time since 1962).

A third-quarter field goal was all the Chargers managed after halftime as continued struggles in the red zone allowed the Raiders to stick around.

But the Chargers defense, which had been unable to hold fourth-quarter leads in three losses this season, stopped the Raiders cold on two crucial drives in the fourth quarter and held on by the hands of DeQuincy Scott (a batted pass on fourth down at the San Diego 9) on another late drive.

"Any time as an offense you struggle you've got to have your defense play solid and stop them," Tomlinson said. "Our defense definitely did that. I'm proud of them. They took a good step toward the right direction in being able to stop people when they need to."

Tomlinson's 140 rushing yards on 31 carries were actually his fewest yards at Oakland since his rookie season. In nine games against Oakland, Tomlinson is averaging 125 yards rushing, has scored 10 touchdowns and thrown for two more.

"He gets up almost as much as Marty (Schottenheimer does) to play the Raiders," quarterback Drew Brees said. "He was excited about this game, and he had a great day."

In the celebration in the end zone following Tomlinson's 4-yard pass to Justin Peelle in the second quarter, which gave the Chargers a 24-7 lead, Brees summed it up: "Superman! You can do it all, huh?"

There is little doubt about that.

"There is no limit to what he can do," said backup running back Michael Turner. "Just when you think you've seen it all, he does something like what he did today."

Also yesterday, to further validate the prevalent belief that Tomlinson is the best running back in the league and is perhaps scooting toward becoming the best ever, Tomlinson tied Lenny Moore's NFL record with a touchdown in his 18th straight game.

In a rare act, Tomlinson kept the ball he carried across the goal line six minutes, 18 seconds in, just the second time in his career he has done so.

So natural is it for him to score and not celebrate that Tomlinson at first simply tossed the ball over his shoulder and began to return to the bench. Midway through the end zone, however, he stopped and ran back to the sideline and asked for the ball from within a bank of photographers.

"I got that one," said Tomlinson, who last kept a ball in 2003 at the request of an aunt who wanted it. "Lenny Moore is quite a guy. A 40-year old record, that's pretty amazing. (Moore is) a Hall of Famer. I had to be able to get that football to tell my kids I got part of that record."

The touchdown – a 35-yard pass play, in which Tomlinson was alone in the flat and ended up tiptoeing into the end zone – also tied him with Jim Brown as the second-fastest player to reach 70 touchdowns. Tomlinson and Brown took 69 games to reach 70, a game more than Steve Van Buren.

"Any time something like that happens, you're kind of overwhelmed by it," said Tomlinson, who has a league-leading 821 total yards from scrimmage this season and is second in the league with 11 touchdowns and 652 rushing yards. "It's an honor."

Oh, but there was more.

With his second touchdown yesterday, a 7-yard run that gave the Chargers a 14-0 lead, Tomlinson became the first player in league history to rush for 10 touchdowns in each of his first five seasons. Hours later, Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks duplicated that feat when he scored four touchdowns against the Texans.

"He's quicker (than in the past)," Peelle said of Tomlinson. "He's more powerful than he has been in the past, which is saying a lot, because he's always been that way. There's something in his step. It's not at the top end. It's right at the beginning. He's getting through, and he's making the cuts, and he's explosive – more than before. And that's amazing, considering where he's been."

How Tomlinson ran yesterday – slashing and turning up the speed and keeping his balance in the most unlikely contortions – was like a ballet.

"We're handing him the ball, and he's running like a man possessed," Schottenheimer said. "People said, 'How can he get any better?' He can get better. He will get better, because of how he works and what he's made of."

Among the many times that Tomlinson seemed to defy reality was one play in the first quarter where he took a handoff and started left, made a jump as he cut to the right at the line of scrimmage, turned up field, cut right again to avoid a tackle and was brought down after 14 yards.

"I was just clapping right there," fullback Lorenzo Neal said. "I turned into a fan."

On the sideline, players looked at each other in awe. There is only one other place they had seen moves like that.

"We were like, 'That's what you do on PlayStation,' " Peelle said. "Everyone turned around and said 'Are you kidding me?' That was amazing."