Tomlinson was the Chargers’ ideal tonic for a blustery winter afternoon in Buffalo on Sunday, producing 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns in San Diego’s 24-21 win over the Bills.
To hear Tomlinson put it, the weather—blowing winds and persistent flurries—got him excited.
“You know, every once in a while it’s actually fun to play in weather like this,” Tomlinson said, noting these are the type conditions he enjoyed seeing on TV as a kid growing up in Texas.
“You see NFL games like in Chicago … and the guys playing in snow and it’s cold. And it kind of looks cool,” Tomlinson said. “You look forward to games like this because they don’t happen much.”
Neither do seasons such as what Tomlinson’s putting together.
With 1,324 yards rushing, Tomlinson joined Eric Dickerson as the second NFL player to reach 1,200 yards rushing in each of his first six NFL seasons. The two scores gave Tomlinson 26 for the year, inching him within two of matching the single-season record by Seattle’s Shaun Alexander last year.
Best of all, he’s got the Chargers (10-2) on a six-game win streak and— combined with Indianapolis’ loss to Tennessee earlier in the day—now sitting in a tie with the Colts for first place in the AFC.
The Bills (5-7) had a two-game win streak snapped in a game not as close as the score indicated.
Buffalo took advantage of ideal field position to score twice in the third quarter to cut San Diego’s lead to 17-14. Tomlinson then sealed the victory, scoring on a 2-yard run to cap a 13-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 8:06 of the fourth quarter.
“We just didn’t do enough offensively in the first half to give ourselves a chance,” Bills receiver Lee Evans said.
Credit the Chargers’ defense.
Sparked by linebacker Shawne Merriman’s return after missing four games because of a steroid suspension, San Diego generated four turnovers and limited the Bills to 230 yards offense—62 coming on their final drive.
Merriman finished with six tackles, two sacks—giving him 10 1/2 on the season — and forced two fumbles.
“It would’ve been better if it was warm,” Merriman said, referring to a game-time temperature of 35. “But just to be back on the field after a month feels very good. … When you’re a game-changer, you’re expected to go out there and change the game.”
Tomlinson certainly ranks in that category.
His 51-yard score late in the first quarter set the tone, bursting through a big hole up the left side created by Lorenzo Neal’s massive block. Streaking up the left sideline, Tomlinson wasn’t touched until safety Ko Simpson got a hand on him near the 2.
Receiver Keenan McCardell was more impressed watching L.T. produce on the Chargers’ final scoring drive.
“He puts the period to the end of the sentence of that drive,” McCardell said. “Done deal.”
Tomlinson’s 178 yards were 5 short of a season high, and came against a defense that allowed an average 172 yards rushing in its previous four games.
His two TDs gave him 106 for his career, vaulting into 12th place on the NFL list, ahead of Tim Brown and Don Hutson.
The Bills failed in an attempt to produce a third straight last-minute comeback victory.
“We’re just not there yet,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “We don’t make enough plays to beat the elite teams. We haven’t done that yet. Today was an example.”
It was so cold that the NFL officials wore their new winter pants— black with a white stripe down the side—for the first time this year. … Bills LB Angelo Crowell did not return after hurting his lower left leg in the first quarter. … Chargers LB Randall Godfrey did not return after hurting his left calf in the first quarter. McCardell did not return after hurting his left calf, the same injury that forced him to miss last week’s game against Oakland. … The Chargers improved to 5-7 all-time when its 40 or colder.