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Tomlinson looks to continue his torrid stretch as the Chargers try to win three straight for the first time this season when they face Johnson and the stumbling Bengals on Sunday.
Tomlinson ran for 172 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries to lead San Diego (6-2) to a 32-25 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
He scored three times in the final 16 minutes to keep the Chargers tied with the Denver Broncos atop the AFC West. Now they travel to Paul Brown Stadium to face the Bengals (4-4), who have lost two straight and are bickering.
Cincinnati is 24th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 129.2 yards per game, and San Diego is sure to try to take advantage of it.
With 828 yards, Tomlinson has pulled within two of the NFL’s leading rusher, Tiki Barber of the New York Giants. The big difference between the two is Tomlinson has 12 touchdowns rushing and Barber has only one.
Tomlinson has taken over the league lead in yards from scrimmage with 1,151, six more than Larry Johnson of division rival Kansas City. The Chargers’ star back leads the NFL with 14 touchdowns.
“I feel great,” he said. “I tell you what, if I continue to feel like this, then I’m going to be real happy going into January.”
In San Diego’s previous game, Tomlinson rushed for 183 yards and had another 57 receiving as he scored three touchdowns in a 38-24 win over the St. Louis Rams.
“Yeah, it’s been a pretty impressive stretch, but we’ve run the ball a little more consistently,” he said. “We’ve kind of gotten into our groove knowing what plays we like to run. There’s certain plays your offensive line likes to run. We know what plays we like to run with them and what plays work. That’s why the last two games you’ve seen us run the ball real effective.”
After winning two straight at home, the Chargers hit the road for games at Cincinnati and Denver. San Diego hasn’t won a game outside of California, losing at Baltimore and Kansas City. The Chargers did win at Oakland and San Francisco.
“We need to win a tough game on the road,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said.
The Chargers were missing both starting outside linebackers last Sunday. Shawne Merriman began serving a four-game suspension for a positive drug test and Shaun Phillips missed his second straight game with a calf injury. Phillips may be ready to return Sunday.
Four losses in the last five games have brought out the worst in the Bengals. Players are openly second-guessing the play calls and their collective toughness, besides losing their cool during games.
A 26-20 loss in Baltimore on Sunday left the defending AFC North champions with a two-game deficit in their division.
Johnson, a Pro Bowl receiver, has only two touchdowns this season and was seething after being held to four catches for 32 yards against Baltimore.
“All you can do, as an individual, is go out and make plays and give your best effort,” Johnson said in an expletive-laced interview. “Also, you have to be given opportunities to make plays. Four for 32—that’s ridiculous. You’ve got to be kidding me.
“When Christmas comes around, I might as well be a hood ornament, because all I’ve been so far is a decoration—a decoration sitting out there all pretty, ready for people to jump on.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he had talked to Johnson about the outburst, but declined to go into detail.
Receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh yanked off his helmet and angrily slammed it to the ground Sunday after the officials decided not to call pass interference on a ball thrown his way in the closing minutes. Houshmandzadeh got a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“There’s no question we do have some young guys, some guys that don’t take every advantage of their situation,” Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “And we do need to grow up in a number of areas. We do need to mature and become professionals, and that’s something that can happen from where we are.
“Obviously, the way we’ve been doing it, the way we’ve gone about our business has got us 4-4.”
The Bengals won their last meeting with the Chargers 34-27 in San Diego on Nov. 23, 2003, ending a string of three straight losses in the series.
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