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McGahee concedes top spot to L.T.

December 03, 2006|From the Associated Press

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Willis McGahee let out a heavy sigh when realizing where the conversation was headed.

With LaDainian Tomlinson and his eye-popping numbers coming to town, this was not the ideal time to revisit McGahee's brow-raising claim from a year ago that McGahee was the NFL's best running back.

The numbers heavily stacked against him, McGahee knew better than to further the debate. He instead issued a grudging concession in leading up to the Buffalo Bills (5-6) playing host to Tomlinson's San Diego Chargers (9-2) today.

"He's up there. He's one of the best running backs," McGahee said. "You just have to look at what he has done. I think he has over 21 touchdowns, and that's hard to do in the NFL. And I'm struggling to get five."

McGahee might have been a little off on his numbers because he's actually scored three touchdowns this season as opposed to Tomlinson's league-leading 24.

One thing was clear, particularly after McGahee was reminded that Tomlinson leads the league with 1,602 yards from scrimmage.

"Well, there you go," he said. "He's the best."

There, was that so hard?

Outside of maybe McGahee, no one's laid a glove on Tomlinson. The shifty, speedy, versatile player -- he can run, catch and even throw for touchdowns -- has made fantasy football owners drool and defenders grimace while turning the Chargers into contenders. He's putting together a season approaching unprecedented levels.

Tomlinson is five touchdowns short of breaking the league's single-season mark set by Seattle's Shaun Alexander last year. In only his sixth season in the league, Tomlinson's 93 career touchdowns rushing already rank eighth, while his 104 overall scores put him 15th.

He's scored 16 times in his past five games. His 26 touchdowns, including two passing, account for nearly two-thirds of the 43 the Chargers have scored. And he's part of an offense that's produced touchdowns in 15 consecutive trips into the red zone.

It's not far-fetched to imagine Tomlinson having a big day against a porous run defense that ranks 29th in the league and has allowed an average 172 yards rushing in its past four games.

"He's a tremendous football player," Bills Coach Dick Jauron said. "We'll have our hands full just like everybody else has. We'll try the things that everybody else has tried, and it hasn't worked too well."

The ever-modest Tomlinson is taking nothing for granted. He wasn't bothered by McGahee's comments, saying he understands why the running back would refer to himself as the best.

"That's how we're built as athletes," Tomlinson said. "If you don't think you're the best, you're already failing."

And he paid the Bills' defense full respect.

"They always play us better than they do everybody else for they simple fact we probably get more respect than anybody," Tomlinson said. "I don't expect it to be any different this week."

While the Chargers have won five straight, the Bills are on a bit of a roll, having won two straight and three of four. Buffalo's resurgence is much the result of a J.P. Losman-led offense finally showing a sudden ability to produce in the clutch.

Losman, a second-year starter, has generated last-minute, game-winning scoring drives in his last two outings, including a four-play, 36-yard march to set up Rian Lindell's field goal as time ran out in a 27-24 win over Jacksonville last weekend.

"It's confidence, for one, and it's steps in the right direction," receiver Lee Evans said. "Everybody's contributing to it, and that's what's sweet about it."

Count McGahee among the contributors. He scored twice against the Jaguars for his first two-touchdown game since the Bills' 2004 season finale. More important, McGahee produced in his first game back after missing two weeks with broken ribs.

"We're winning and I want to be part of it," said McGahee.

The game features several subplots, including Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman return after a four-game steroid suspension. Both quarterbacks, Losman and Philip Rivers, were first-round picks in the 2004 draft. Then there's San Diego defensive coordinator Wade Phillips facing the team he once coached.

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