Everyone knew the San Diego Chargers would be better than last
year -- it's hard to do much worse than 1-15 -- but here they are,
leading the AFC and tied with the Packers and Rams at 3-0.
Rookie running back LaDainian Tomlinson scored touchdowns on
three straight second-half possessions, and the Chargers brushed
aside the Cincinnati Bengals 28-14 in a showdown of surprising
unbeaten teams on Sunday.
"We're at peace right now," said linebacker Junior Seau, one
of the few players left from the last Chargers' team to go 3-0, the
one that reached the Super Bowl following the 1994 season. "We
don't have to look back and say `if' and `but.' That was kind of
wearing on us."
Seau, who hasn't been in the playoffs since 1995, knows how
quick things can fall apart.
"We're not going be kids and holler that we're No. 1 in the
AFC. We're going to let it go."
The Chargers are tops, though, because they have an outstanding
rookie in Tomlinson to go along with the punishing defense led by
Seau and safety Rodney Harrison.
Who's more important to the Chargers: Doug Flutie or LaDainian
It's a combination of both. What the Chargers want to do is get the lead and
then run the ball, as they've done in these first three games. Once they get
the lead, Tomlinson is the most important guy in the Chargers' offense. Up
until then, Flutie is very important in directing the offense.
Tomlinson missed some of training camp due to a contract impasse, but his
success doesn't surprise me. In offensive coordinator Norv Turner's offense,
the running back is going to get ball often (just ask Emmitt Smith).
Tomlinson was talented coming out of TCU, and you knew he would do this.
ESPN.com NFL analyst Vinny Cerrato has served as director of player
personnel for the Redskins and 49ers.
Tomlinson turned a tie game into a blowout with a combination of
power runs and cutbacks, including scores of 4, 2 and 3 yards. He
finished with 107 yards on 21 carries, his second 100-yard game in
three starts. Tomlinson, the player the Chargers coveted over
Michael Vick in April's draft, has 310 yards and five touchdowns in
Tomlinson and the Chargers' maligned offensive line -- they're
young and were unproven coming into the year -- didn't hit full
steam until the middle of the third quarter.
"You saw the holes I had to run through," said Tomlinson, the
first Chargers back to score three TDs since Natrone Means in 1994.
"That's what it came down to in the second half. Oh my goodness,
when I saw those holes, I'm thinking, `Where's everybody at?"'
Tomlinson said fans are just seeing the beginning.
"I really believe there are a lot better things to come," he
Center Kendyl Jacox said the line finally just wore down the
"Sooner or later, we're going to get what we want," he said.
Tomlinson "is a fabulous back," Jacox said. "He's just
scratching the surface."
Said quarterback Doug Flutie: "He's pretty darn good. It's so
much fun to watch him run."
Tomlinson upstaged the Bengals' Corey Dillon, who was held to 46
yards on 15 carries.
"When they're feeding him and he's running well, he's going to
get his yards," Dillon said. "Just that simple."
Tomlinson's second TD was set up when Harrison stripped Dillon,
with Rogers Beckett recovering.
San Diego's suffocating defense forced four turnovers, including
Jon Kitna's first three interceptions of the season. Cornerback
Ryan McNeil had two pickoffs, giving him five this season, and Seau
had the other.
"Every ball that was up in the air they made a play on and they
were able to come down with it," Kitna said.
Cincinnati (2-1) looked more like the Bungles of the last decade
than the Bengals who beat the defending Super Bowl champion
Baltimore Ravens a week earlier.
Their biggest problem was Tomlinson, although the rookie gained
only 32 yards on 12 carries through 2½ quarters, including his
4-yard run with 8:01 to play in the third that gave San Diego a
14-7 lead. Tomlinson left two defenders in a heap at the goal line
as he went in standing up.
Tomlinson then ran for 74 yards on seven carries the next two
drives. His 2-yard TD run with 4:44 left made it 21-7, and he went
up the middle to score from 3 yards with 14:15 to play.
After one of TDs, Tomlinson did a little shimmy in the end zone.
"I didn't even know I did that," he said.
Kitna threw two touchdown passes, including a 7-yarder to Peter
Warrick with 1:48 to play.
Flutie, who ran onto the field waving an American flag during
pregame introductions, threw a 19-yard TD pass to Curtis Conway for
a 7-0 lead with 10:43 left in the second quarter.
The Bengals tied the game at 7 on Kitna's 8-yard pass to Chad
Johnson with 24 seconds left before halftime.
Flutie, coming off a 353-yard game, was 12-of-19 for 133 yards,
with no interceptions. Kitna was 18-of-32 for 135 yards.
DE Marcellus Wiley made his Chargers debut and got his
first sack. Wiley missed the first two games with a stress fracture
in his left foot. ... Chargers DT Jamal Williams sprained his left
knee in the second quarter and didn't return. He'll have an MRI
Monday. Rookie LB Carlos Polk hurt his left shoulder in the fourth