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Tomlinson Handles Rush Job for Chargers

Football: Running back ties a club single-game record with 217 yards and San Diego beats New England, 21-14.


SAN DIEGO — Asked about the magic of LaDainian Tomlinson, who tied a San Diego Charger record Sunday with 217 yards rushing, teammate Marcellus Wiley offered a simple explanation:

"He stood in God's ability line and got an overdose of it."

Who are the New England Patriots to argue? A week after surrendering 180 yards to Kansas City's Priest Holmes, the Super Bowl champions were flambeed by Tomlinson, who had touchdown runs of 37 and 58 yards to lift the Chargers to a 21-14 victory in front of a delirious packed house at Qualcomm Stadium.

"There's no doubt in my mind their plan was to stop the run," said Tomlinson, who matched the club's single-game rushing mark set by Gary Anderson in 1988. "I thought it was going to be a hard day running the football because of what Priest did against them last week, but we had a lot of things working for us."

Not only did the Chargers (4-0) end New England's winning streak at 12, but they kept their own record unblemished, joining Oakland and Denver as the league's only unbeaten teams. Even better, this victory is a resounding rebuttal to those who thought San Diego couldn't beat a good team. The Chargers opened the season by knocking off Cincinnati, Houston and Arizona.

"This gives us credibility and respect throughout the league," cornerback Alex Molden said. "People were talking about our schedule and how soft it was, but a 'W' is a 'W.' Other teams have great players, but we find a way to win."

Molden secured Sunday's victory when he recovered a fumble at the New England 45 with 17 seconds to play, ending the Patriots' last-gasp possession. It was pandemonium on the San Diego sideline, where players howled, hugged and even bowled over teammates. Wiley jerked his neck around like a bobblehead doll, then gleefully pounced on top of fellow defensive end Raylee Johnson.

"I thought he was going to shake my hand or whatever, but then I thought, 'You know what, he's gaining speed,' " Johnson said. "Before I started to brace myself, I was on the ground."

San Diego defenders didn't have any such luck with Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, who completed 36 of 53 passes for 353 yards and wasn't sacked. In fact, the Chargers barely touched him.

"Coach said to be patient and poised this week, and he said that because he knew we were going to get frustrated if we were out there doing well as pass rushers and we weren't getting to him," Wiley said. "One time, we were lined up over the center--you can't get there any quicker--and he snapped the ball, the center didn't block, and already the ball was gone."

But Brady also made some tide-turning mistakes. He had two passes intercepted in the third quarter, after the Patriots had moved deep into San Diego territory. Cornerback Ryan McNeil picked off one, and the other was grabbed by linebacker Donnie Edwards, who gave the Chargers great field position with a 46-yard return.

But San Diego's offense was unable to build on the 21-14 lead it established on the second play of the third quarter, when Tomlinson turned a simple cutback into a 58-yard touchdown. It was up to the defense to preserve that edge for the remainder of the second half.

The Chargers made two big defensive plays in the fourth quarter, both at their 39-yard line. The first came early in the period, when fullback Marc Edwards was stuffed for no gain on fourth and one. The second came with 5:21 to play, when Junior Seau tackled running back Antowain Smith for a two-yard loss on third and 10. The Patriots punted, and when they finally got the ball back, never got past the 50.

It didn't help New England that top receiver Troy Brown was sidelined because of a knee injury. His backup, Deion Branch, picked up the slack with 13 catches for 128 yards. Tight end Christian Fauria caught a touchdown pass, as did linebacker Mike Vrabel, who lined up at tight end for a play.

Regardless, New England, which was averaging 38.3 points this season, was held to 14 by the league's No. 1 defense.

"I think we're all a little shell-shocked right now," Brady said. "I don't think any of us anticipated this. Not because they're not a good team, and not because they didn't go out and beat us. But I think in a lot of respects we beat ourselves."

But the beat resonating throughout the stadium Sunday was the chant of "LT, LT, LT," a tribute to Tomlinson, who is making the life of first-year starting quarterback Drew Brees, well, a breeze.

"That kid's the real deal," center Jason Ball said of Tomlinson, selected No. 5 overall in the 2001 draft. "He's making us look good. It's a real treat to block for a guy like LaDainian. Once you get him through that front seven, it could be end of story."

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