The Chargers scored 38 points and gained 456 yards against the Broncos on Sunday, and they did it without a significant contribution from the man widely regarded as the game's most prolific offensive player.
There are two ways to look at this: The positive spin is that even with LaDainian Tomlinson sitting out the most important stages of the Chargers' 39-38 defeat, the team's other offensive weapons – most notably quarterback Philip Rivers – made coach Norv Turner's offense function at a high level.
The other way to look at it? LT is no longer the focal point of San Diego's attack.
I'm not saying it's impossible that Tomlinson, at 29, can never again recapture the sustained brilliance he displayed through most of his first seven NFL seasons. But I don't think the Chargers can count on that happening.
Tomlinson receives medical attention to his right foot during Sunday's loss.
(US Presswire/Byron Hetzler)
This is what happens sometimes to great running backs who carry a significant workload, and we shouldn't assume that Tomlinson will necessarily be an exception. His record-setting 2006 season, which included a stunning 31 touchdowns, had us expecting a series of encores. Yet suddenly there are the same kind of durability issues that plagued Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes and Marshall Faulk – the three other backs who held the single-season TD record earlier this century.
Last January, LT hurt his knee in the Chargers' divisional playoff upset over the Colts and sat out the second half. He tried to play in the following week's AFC championship game defeat at New England but took himself out after just three touches and spent the rest of the game looking frozen and deflated on a sideline bench.
On Sunday, he tried to play through the dislocated big toe he suffered in the Chargers' season opener but, after rushing for 26 yards on 10 carries and catching two passes for 14 yards, stayed on the sideline during the game's pivotal stages. With longtime backup Michael Turner having left for Atlanta via free agency, it was 5-foot-6 scatback Darren Sproles who played the unstoppable understudy, combining for 317 all-purpose yards and scoring on a 103-yard kickoff return and a 66-yard screen pass that gave the Chargers a lead late in the fourth quarter.
Hopefully Tomlinson fights through this latest ailment and finishes the season without further injury. It's possible that, as in the past, a player who habitually skips the entire preseason may need a few weeks to hit his stride.
If LT is indeed running on empty, or if that eventually happens sooner than we'd care to contemplate, at least the Chargers have a quarterback who is ready to carry them.
As Sunday showed, it may already be that San Diego is Rivers' team, one which will increasingly rely on wideouts Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson to complement perennial All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates and produce the bulk of its big gains through the air.
If Norv Turner and his players are starting to think this way, can you blame them?
And while we're in the inquisitive mode, here's this week's list of things we'd like answered, from the attractive to the atrocious:
1. Green Bay Packers: If they beat the Cowboys next week, will people stop sending emails questioning my sanity (and sobriety) for ranking them No. 1?
2. New York Giants: Is it fair to say they're not complacent?
3. Dallas Cowboys: Is any team in sports more entertaining?
6. Denver Broncos: Will Ed Hochuli get a playoff share?
10. Philadelphia Eagles: How is it possible that DeSean (Premature Throwback-Elation) Jackson spent three years at the world's greatest university?
11. Indianapolis Colts: Will they look back on Sunday's stirring comeback in the Metrodome as a season-saver?
12. New Orleans Saints: Hey, who let Robert Meacham out of Guantanamo Bay?
13. Arizona Cardinals: Is this the year I finally look smart for picking them to win the NFC West?
21. Houston Texans: How many times will Mario Williams introduce himself to Kerry Collins on Sunday?
22. New York Jets: Yo, Mangini – who's your daddy?
23. Cleveland Browns: So when does the regular season start?
25. Seattle Seahawks: After the not-so-big show we saw on Sunday at Qwest Field, can we all agree that this team's Super Bowl "window" has been slammed shut?
27. Oakland Raiders: Do you really believe this is all Lane Kiffin's fault, or should we consider blaming the only NFL owner who envisioned the young USC co-offensive coordinator as a head coach just 20 months ago?
28. Detroit Lions: Why do they persist in taunting us?
31. Cincinnati Bengals: Will they score at all against the Giants next Sunday?
32. St. Louis Rams: If reporters had known Scott Linehan would answer just one question in Sunday's postgame news conference, shouldn't it have been, "Hey, Scott – why, exactly, do you guys suck?"