SAN DIEGO (AP)—For those who might have been thinking there was something wrong with LaDainian Tomlinson, there isn’t.
Tomlinson reminded everyone just how good he is when he rushed for a season-high 183 yards and scored three more touchdowns to lead the San Diego Chargers to a 38-24 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.
“So many questions start to come when you don’t have 100 yards,” said Tomlinson, who has scored 11 touchdowns in helping the Chargers to a 5-2 record. “People start to wonder, are you getting old or have you lost a step? For me, it’s all motivation.
“If I lost a step and had a day like this today, I’d hate to see if I was a young man what I would have done today with the kind of holes I ran through.”
Tomlinson surpassed 8,000 yards rushing for his six-year career, and tied his boyhood idol, Emmitt Smith, as the second-fastest players to score 90 touchdowns, in 86 games. The quickest was Jim Brown in 81 games.
Tomlinson, who carried 25 times, reached 90 career TDs by scoring on the ground to cap the Chargers’ first two drives. He added his 91st when he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers with 3:58 left in the game.
The star running back also had three catches for 57 yards, and recovered an onside kick after the Rams pulled to 31-17 midway through the fourth quarter.
Rivers also has heard the talk about Tomlinson’s production falling off.
“I was trying to find that step that he lost, out there today,” Rivers joked. “He was awesome. That’s the L.T. that we’ve known we’ve had all year. I mean, he’s not going to go for 150 or whatever he went for today, every week. It ain’t going to happen. If teams do that, they’re crazy for it. They’re not going to let it happen.
“Him back there, he does a lot of things. Even when he doesn’t touch it, he does a lot of things.”
The Chargers rebounded from a 30-27 loss the week before at AFC West rival Kansas City.
St. Louis (4-3), coming off its bye, lost consecutive games for the first time this year.
Tomlinson cracked 100 yards rushing for the first time since he had 131 in a 27-0 laugher at Oakland on Sept. 11. Although his yards rushing are down, he has been a crucial part of San Diego’s passing game. He has a team-high 35 catches for 303 yards.
Tomlinson scored on runs of 2 and 38 yards in the first quarter to give the Chargers a 14-0 lead.
He broke a 51-yard run late in the third quarter to set up Nate Kaeding’s 31-yard field goal.
Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who’s facing a four-game suspension for a positive drug test, played with his usual urgency, sacking Marc Bulger three times, followed by his spasmodic “Lights Out” dance.
Merriman tested positive for the steroid nandrolone, which his attorney blamed on a tainted nutritional supplement. An appeal hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 7, which would allow Merriman to also play in next Sunday’s home game against Cleveland.
But Merriman seems to be considering dropping the appeal and beginning the suspension.
“Like I said on Day 1, it will be a for-the-team decision if anything like that were to occur,” he said. “My teammates want me to do what’s best for myself. I want to do what’s best for the team. I have to make the best decision possible.”
As for his big day, “I play every play like it’s my last one,” Merriman said. “That’s how I’ve always taken the game of football. You’ll never feel like you’ve left anything on the field.”
Said Rams running back Steven Jackson: “We’re a tough opponent. I had a feeling he wanted to play against us.”
With the Chargers nursing a 14-7 lead early in the third quarter, Chargers safety Marlon McCree came up big for a defense missing two injured starters when he returned a fumble 79 yards for his second career touchdown.
“If you play a team like this on the road, you have to basically play mistake-free football,” Rams coach Scott Linehan said.
Merriman had two sacks in the first quarter and got his third on the opening possession of the second half, which forced the Rams to punt.
On their next possession, the Rams were at the Chargers 29 thanks to Isaac Bruce’s 37-yard reception. Stephen Davis fumbled on the following play when he was hit by Jacques Cesaire. McCree emerged from the pile with the ball, broke one tackle and was gone, giving San Diego a 21-7 lead.
Bulger was 27-for-40 for 327 yards and two touchdown passes, both in the fourth quarter.
Bruce had five catches for 105 yards, all in the second half, to push his career total to 12,771 yards. He passed Art Monk (12,721) and into 10th place on the all-time list. … The Rams lost for just the 10th time in 34 games against AFC teams since 1998.