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Bustin' the Broncos - LT hopes to end Denver drought

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Nov 17, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/don_banks/11/17/tomlinson/index.html">CNNSI.com</a>

    <img alt="The Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson has scored just two of his 98 career touchdowns in Denver." title="The Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson has scored just two of his 98 career touchdowns in Denver." src="http://i.a.cnn.net/si/2006/writers/don_banks/11/17/tomlinson/p1_lt_bahr.jpg" />

    By Don Banks

    <strong>LaDainian Tomlinson</strong> has spent most of the first six seasons of his dazzling and gravity-defying career running into both the end zone and the NFL record book, but the fact of the matter is he hasn't gone much of anywhere in Denver.

    I'll bet you didn't know that in the Mile High City, LT might as well stand for a Lack of Touchdowns. Tomlinson has scored 98 touchdowns in just 88 career games, positioning him to become the fastest ever to triple digits, besting the mark of 93 games set by<strong> Jim Brown</strong> and<strong> Emmitt Smith</strong>. But just two of those six-pointers have been scored in Denver, where he has played once a season in each of his first five years in the NFL.

    And, oh, did we mention that San Diego's star running back has never topped 75 yards rushing in Denver, where he has" a 52.8-yard per game average and a 3.4-yard per carry" average that is a full yard below his output in any other NFL stadium? No wonder Tomlinson is 0-5 in Denver, where San Diego hasn't won since Week 17 of 1999 and is 1-10 there since its 1994 opener.

    Could you blame the Broncos if they're wondering what all the fuss is about? (They're not, but play along with me here).

    "They take me out of the game,'' said Tomlinson this week as the 7-2 Chargers prepared for a Sunday-night first-place showdown in Denver against the 7-2 Broncos. "I haven't had the ball much in Denver. They end up taking me out of the game when we get behind and we're not running the ball much. That's been the case.

    "When you play Denver in Denver, you have to match their intensity at the beginning of the game, because they start so fast and they jump on you and they ride the wave finishing the game. Once you get behind, their place is the most difficult place to come back in because their defense is so good.''

    The man knows his stuff, because not only have the Chargers been outscored 82-17 during first halves in Denver from 2001 on, LT has averaged just 15.4 rushing attempts per game there, which is well below his 21.9 career average against the rest of the league.

    "I know one thing they do well is they know us,'' Tomlinson said. "They know exactly what we like to do, and so they play well against what we do well.''

    Which of late is just about everything. Tomlinson has been a fantasy football franchise all unto himself in recent weeks, scoring 15 touchdowns (13 rushing, two receiving) in the past five games to break a record that the legendary Brown established almost 50 years ago (1958)." LT's 932 yards rushing in nine games ranks second in the league behind <strong>Tiki</strong> <strong>Barber</strong>'s 971, and he's caught 44 passes for 377 yards, with a league-best 18 touchdowns that represents 50 percent more than his nearest competitor (Kansas City's <strong>Larry Johnson</strong>, with 12).

    There's nothing not to love about this strength against strength matchup, with San Diego averaging an NFL-high 33 points a game, and Denver giving up a league-low 12.3 per game. The winner is going to hold first place in the AFC West and will probably have the upper hand when these two division rivals meet again, in three weeks in San Diego.

    To put an end to the demons that have vexed them in Denver, Tomlinson may need an effort approaching last week's boffo showing in Cincinnati, where he tallied four rushing touchdowns as the Chargers scored 42 second-half points to stun the Bengals 49-41.

    Improbable? No doubt, given that Denver's defense only implodes when facing <strong>Peyton Manning</strong> and the Colts. The Broncos have held San Diego to just 13 points per game in their past six meetings. But this year is different, LT said. This is the best San Diego team he has been on, he said, rating it even higher than the 12-4 AFC West-winning club of 2004.

    "It is, for the simple fact that all around, the talent we have on both sides of the ball is phenomenal,'' said Tomlinson, who enters Sunday" showdown with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. "You've got guys at a lot of positions that can truly make plays. That hasn't been the case here in the past, since I've been here.''

    That's saying something considering that San Diego started the season with a huge question mark at quarterback, having handed the No. 1 job to untested third-year veteran <strong>Philip Rivers</strong> and shown <strong>Drew Brees</strong> the door in free agency.

    Tomlinson admits he and his veteran teammates didn't know "how good'' the Chargers could be with Rivers under center.

    "We knew we had a good defense, we knew that we could run the ball,'' Tomlinson said. "The only question was would we be able to throw it successfully? Obviously when you lose a quarterback, you wonder how good are you going to be?''

    But is there any doubt in anyone's mind now that trading <strong>Eli Manning</strong> for Rivers (and more) was a masterful stroke by San Diego's front office on draft day 2004? Once Chargers head coach <strong>Marty Schottenheimer</strong> finally took the training wheels off Rivers following San Diego's 16-13 "Martyball'' loss at Baltimore in Week 4, the Chargers offense sprang to life, averaging 36.2 points per outing in running off five wins in six games.

    "You've got to realize Eli didn't want to play in San Diego from the beginning,'' Tomlinson said. "You don't want to bring a guy to your team that doesn't want to play for you. I think it worked out better for us in the long run. I think Philip could end up a better quarterback than Eli. We don't know that for sure yet, but if you look at him right now, both of them are playing great. Philip may be out-playing Eli right now.''

    In San Diego, everything's working on offense these days. But doing it in Denver remains the Chargers' biggest unmet challenge.
     

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