- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

LaDainian Tomlinson started slow. Really slow.

The Washington Redskins’ aggressive defense shut down Tomlinson, the two-time Pro Bowl running back for the San Diego Chargers, through three quarters. Tomlinson ran for only 37 yards on 11 carries in the first half and added just 29 more in the third quarter.

That left the Redskins just where they wanted to be at the start of the fourth: in command with a 17-7 lead and with Tomlinson, perhaps the best back in the NFL, in check.

That, however, is when Tomlinson took over and put the Redskins’ season in deep peril.

The fifth-year back finished with 184 yards on 25 carries and all three of the Chargers’ touchdowns in a 23-17 overtime victory over the Redskins.

Tomlinson burst through the left side for a 32-yard touchdown with 3:29 left in regulation to tie the game at 17-17. After the Redskins botched an opportunity to win at the end of regulation, the Chargers won the toss and got the ball first in overtime, opening the way for Tomlinson again.

On the second play of overtime, Tomlinson broke through the line, busted a would-be tackle and sprinted 41 yards to the end zone for the win.

“You have to understand what he can do with a little breathing room,” Chargers guard Mike Goff said.

The Redskins helped Tomlinson by playing pass-oriented defense much of the second half, especially in the final quarter. Tomlinson looked for a crack in the line at the start of a play and found little resistance beyond there.

“We felt like we could run the ball effectively a little bit, especially with the play that we did to win the game,” said Tomlinson, who averaged 7.4 yards a carry. “It was basically just a power play. What we saw is that they were kind of going to nickel at times and having only two linebackers with the defensive back, and we tried to attack that with the run.”

Tomlinson now is running in elite company.

The Texas Christian product has rushed for 1,086 yards this season. He is one of only seven players — along with Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Eric Dickerson, Corey Dillon, Eddie George and Tony Dorsett — to rush for 1,000 yards in his five seasons.

He also is approaching the record for touchdowns in a season. Tomlinson has 19 (17 rushing, two receiving), eight behind Priest Holmes’ mark of 27 set with the Chiefs in 2003.

Tomlinson is a terror in the open field, but his surprising power separates him from talented, finesse-oriented backs like the Redskins’ Clinton Portis.

“He hits the hole hard,” Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. “He’s physical for a small guy.”

Tomlinson is the second compact, speedy back to decimate the Redskins this season. Tiki Barber gained 206 yards in the New York Giants’ 36-0 victory on Oct. 30.

Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer has said Tomlinson is the best running back he has ever seen — a list that includes Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Gale Sayers — because of what he does against today’s defenses, which are bigger and faster than in earlier eras.

“There is a penetrating power about his inside running game that a lot of people don’t recognize, and you see it and you just marvel at what he can do,” Schottenheimer said.

That was on display on the game-winning run. Tomlinson broke through a small seam created by Goff, escaped the grasp of safety Ryan Clark about 5 yards past the line of scrimmage and easily scored. The touchdown helped the Chargers’ playoff chances in a tough AFC race and dealt a near-fatal blow to the Redskins’ season.

“I got through there and was in the open field,” Tomlinson said. “I looked up at the jumbo screen and saw somebody chasing, but he was too far back. I can’t tell you the thrill knowing that we were going home with a victory after coming back like we did. It was just incredible.”

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