S.D. Chargers Clinch AFC West
Monday, December 11, 2006
They hoisted him onto their shoulders and carried him toward the sideline, with Tomlinson holding the ball high in his right hand and waving his left index finger, a 48-20 win over the Denver Broncos and the AFC West title all wrapped up.
With chants of "L.T.! L.T.!" and "MVP! MVP!" pouring from the stands, everyone got to celebrate Tomlinson's record 29th touchdown of the season on Sunday.
The 300-pound men who lifted L.T. enjoyed the moment.
"He is a king and he should be treated like one," left guard Kris Dielman said. "That is what a king gets."
The star running back, one of the most humble athletes in any pro sport, wanted his offensive linemen, tight ends and fullback Lorenzo Neal to share in the celebration.
"Once I got over the pylon, my initial thought process was to bring every guy on the offensive unit over to share that moment," Tomlinson said. "When we're old and can't play this game anymore, them are the moments we are going to remember, that we'll be able to tell our kids, tell our grandchildren. We can talk about something special tat we did. We made history today.
"There's no better feeling than to share it with the group of guys that's in that locker room."
With three touchdowns, including the final two in a 47-second span late in the game, Tomlinson broke Shaun Alexander's year-old record of 28.
The Chargers' seventh straight victory, coupled with Kansas City's 20-10 loss to Baltimore, gave San Diego (11-2) its second division title in three seasons.
The Chargers also grabbed the inside track to home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs when Indianapolis lost 44-17 at Jacksonville to fall into a tie with Baltimore at 10-3.
But this game was all about Tomlinson, who has become the MVP front-runner by scoring 26 touchdowns in the last nine games. "He came into the huddle and said, 'I want all of you guys to join me in the end zone when I get it,"' right tackle Shane Olivea said.
Tomlinson was soon on the shoulders of 300-pound men.
Said Neal: "I think he will go down in history as the best."
Coach Marty Schottenheimer has long contended that Tomlinson is the best running back he's ever seen. On Sunday, he amended that feeling.
"I believe he is the finest running back to ever wear an NFL uniform," he said.
Tomlinson was greeted by several Broncos at midfield after the game. He ran to the far end zone to celebrate with fans, then ran back along the sideline, both arms upraised, while heading to the locker room.
Tomlinson scored on a 1-yard early in the second quarter, helping the Chargers to a 28-3 halftime lead. The Broncos, behind rookie quarterback Jay Cutler, scored 17 straight points in the third quarter to make it a game.
But, with the Chargers leading 34-20, Luis Castillo sacked Cutler on fourth-and-2, giving the Chargers the ball at the Denver 28.
Tomlinson tied Alexander's record of 28 when he scored on a 6-yard run with 3:57 left. He got hit at the 3, but spun right and scored.
The Chargers got the ball back when Shawne Merriman came from behind Cutler to cause and recover a fumble at the Denver 7. On the next play, with the crowd at full throat, Tomlinson ran to his left and scored.
The play was called power 50, which is designed to go inside.
"I could have guessed that that was the play we were going to call because it was Marty's favorite play," Tomlinson said. "It was fitting to break the record on Marty's favorite play."
But Tomlinson took the play outside and scored.
"Usually the coaching staff tells me if I go out there, I'm on my own."
Cornerback Darrent Williams dived and missed Tomlinson at the 6. Domonique Foxworth made a last desperate attempt to push Tomlinson out of bounds at the goal line.
Denver (7-6) lost its fourth straight game.
"They beat us and they beat us squarely," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said after the Chargers swept the series for the first time since 1982. "I take my hat off to them."
Tomlinson, who has thrown for two TDs that don't count toward his record, also tied John Riggins' 1983 record of seven straight multi-touchdown games. He finished with 103 yards on 28 carries, his seventh straight 100-yard game.
Tomlinson scored his first touchdown of the day early in the second quarter. Antonio Gates caught two touchdown passes from Philip Rivers, and fullback Lorenzo Neal scored on a 4-yard trick play, perhaps a reward for all the blocking he does for Tomlinson.
But Cutler, looking more poised than in his debut a week earlier, threw touchdown passes of 28 and 11 yards to rookie tight end Tony Scheffler in a span of 48 seconds in the third quarter. The second TD came three plays after Chargers rookie Antonio Cromartie fumbled on a kickoff return after being hit by Patrick Chukwurah, with Denver's Louis Green recovering at the San Diego 27.
Then Jason Elam kicked a 33-yard field goal to make it 28-20. Notes: Tomlinson has scored 174 points this season, three shy of breaking Paul Hornung's single-season record of 176 set in 1960.
Tomlinson is the first back in San Diego history to have eight 100-yard rushing games.
(Photo: LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates with teammates after breaking the NFL record for single-season touchdowns. Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images ).