Tomlinson Making Home in End Zone

By David Neiman
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 24, 2005

SAN DIEGO -- When it comes to the little matter of who is the best running back in the NFL, Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks has his fans.

His league-leading 1,229 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns certainly make a compelling argument.

In Willis McGahee's corner, there is, squarely, Willis McGahee, despite the fact that the Buffalo Bills running back has scored only four touchdowns and ranks sixth in the league in rushing yardage.

But to San Diego Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer, it's no contest.

LaDainian Tomlinson, the absurdly gifted star of San Diego's backfield, has not only rushed for 902 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2005. He's caught two, and thrown for three more.

"Nothing he does surprises me," Schottenheimer said.

In his fifth year in the league, Tomlinson is no longer the best-kept secret in the NFL. Ever since last season, when he led the Chargers to a 12-4 finish and the franchise's first division title in a decade, Tomlinson has become a household name.

Over 4 1/2 seasons, Tomlinson has rushed for 6,801 yards and 68 touchdowns (averaging 4.3 yards per carry for his career), and has 2,308 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

A two-time Pro Bowl selection, he is the only player in NFL history to score at least 10 rushing touchdowns in his first five seasons, and is already the Chargers' all-time leading rusher. And although he has never led the league in rushing or scoring, he has scored 76 touchdowns in 73 games.

If Tomlinson plays, he is, in all likelihood, going to score -- a fact that the Washington Redskins will have to contend with when the Chargers come to town for a game Sunday at FedEx Field. How he will score is anyone's guess.

When San Diego beat the Oakland Raiders, 27-14, on Oct. 16, Tomlinson rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown, scored another on a pass, and threw a four-yard touchdown strike to tight end Justin Peelle.

After the game, Chargers quarterback Drew Brees was informed that Tomlinson had a better quarterback rating. For his career, Tomlinson is 5-of-6 passing for 106 yards and four touchdowns, giving him a career passing rating of 158.3.

"I think he has a higher quarterback rating than anybody in the history of the game, at this point," Brees joked. "Maybe I'm spoiled a little bit because I see it all the time in practice. I've got the best seat in the house during games. We've used the [term] 'Superman without the cape.' We've used a lot of terms to describe L.T. But I think he never ceases to amaze."

Even more amazing is that Tomlinson's rushing numbers this season have come against some of the top rushing defenses in the league -- the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants. Tomlinson ran for 192 yards and three touchdowns and passed for another against New York. Against the Redskins, he'll be facing the league's 14th-best defense against the run.

Tomlinson may be quickly racking up the kinds of numbers that will secure him a place in history, but he is indulging in no comparisons to the game's greats.

"People are going to have their opinion about who I seem most like to them," he said earlier in the season. "It really doesn't matter." Before playing the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 23, Tomlinson had scored in 18 straight games, tying a 40-year-old record held by Baltimore Colts legend Lenny Moore. When a reporter asked what sharing or breaking the mark would mean to him, he received a vintage Tomlinson response.

"It's just not a main focus for me," he said. "It just kind of came about as I continued to play each week. . . . It's definitely a great record. Any record that's held by a Hall of Famer like Lenny Moore, you have to be proud of it."

Schottenheimer professes to be just as impressed with Tomlinson off the field.

"For all the talent and skills that he possesses as a player, that is far surpassed by his quality as a human being," Schottenheimer said. "He's one of the finest young men I have ever been around. When it comes time to give players a lot of money, one of the things you're always concerned about is how the player is going to react and respond once he's got more money than whatever. And that will never affect that guy."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company