After yet another remarkable effort to lead the San Diego Chargers into sole possession of first place in the AFC West, LaDainian Tomlinson will look to help extend his team’s domination of the sinking Oakland Raiders when the teams meet Sunday.
Tomlinson scored four touchdowns for the second consecutive week to reach 100 TDs faster than any player in NFL history on Sunday night, lifting the Chargers (8-2) over the Denver Broncos 35-27 and putting them alone atop the division.
Tomlinson ran for 105 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries, and caught three passes for 74 yards and a score at Denver, where he hadn’t rushed for 100 yards in six trips. Tomlinson, who helped the Chargers rally from a 24-7 deficit against the NFL’s top-ranked defense, has 102 touchdowns in 89 games, four games fewer than the mark Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith shared previously for the fastest to 100 TDs.
“Resilient bunch of guys,” said Tomlinson, who leads the NFL with 22 touchdowns. “Our team, we’re never out of it, and I think this is a very special team because no matter what happens, no matter how much we’re down, we’re never out of the football game.”
Philip Rivers went 19-for-26 for 222 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Chargers, who lead the league with 33.2 points per game.
The victory over Denver was San Diego’s fourth in a row, and the Chargers seem sure to give their star back another heavy workload in their second meeting of the season with the Raiders (2-8), losers of three straight. San Diego will be looking for its seventh straight victory over its division rival.
Tomlinson has carried the ball against Oakland more than any other opponent, rushing 298 times for 1,346 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also caught 45 passes for 225 yards against the Raiders, and is coming off a 31-carry, 131-yard day in the teams’ last meeting, a 27-0 Chargers victory in their Sept. 11 opener.
Tomlinson will be going against a run defense that’s allowing 135.4 yards per game, 27th in the NFL.
“He’s as good as there is,” Rivers said. “He’s going to keep performing at that level. Now, is he going to keep having four touchdowns every game and having 150 yards? Maybe. I mean, he might.”
Rivers and the Chargers may need a workhorse performance similar to the one Tomlinson gave in the opener, as Oakland’s pass defense ranks first in the league at 170.2 yards per game.
The Raiders’ last two defeats came by 17-13 scores, and both times they led in the fourth quarter. Last week, Trent Green returned from a 10-week layoff and guided Kansas City on a winning drive that culminated in a Larry Johnson 1-yard touchdown run with 1:32 remaining.
On Nov. 12, Denver’s Jake Plummer overcame three interceptions to throw a go-ahead scoring pass early in the fourth, and the Raiders lost two fumbles down the stretch to end their hopes.
Oakland’s biggest problem has been its offense. The Raiders have scored only seven offensive touchdowns and were shut out in the second half last week for the fourth time this season.
Quarterback Aaron Brooks returned last week after missing seven games with a strained pectoral muscle and gave the offense a jolt. He engineered three straight scoring drives in the first half—just the second time this season Oakland has done that—and drove the Raiders down to the 8 for the possible winning score, but threw an interception in the end zone in the final minute.
The Raiders have scored a league-low 118 points. Making matters worse, Oakland lost starting running back Lamont Jordan to a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee Sunday that could sideline him for the rest of the season.
“I was starting to get into a zone,” Jordan said. “I felt like I was going to have a big day (Sunday) until this happened. It’s just a little frustrating. It’s two years in a row now that I’ve been injured. The last thing I’m trying to do is be labeled as a guy who can’t go 16 games.”
The Raiders will also be without starting left tackle Robert Gallery, who dislocated his left elbow in the third quarter against Kansas City.