Tomlinson, Chargers hold off Bills 24-21

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (Dec. 3, 2006) -- If Mother Nature couldn't slow down LaDainian Tomlinson, what chance did the Buffalo Bills have?

Tomlinson was the Chargers' ideal tonic for a blustery winter afternoon in the Buffalo area, producing 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns in San Diego's 24-21 victory against 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 winning 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) were denied a three-game winning streak 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.

The Bills made it close again when J.P. Losman hit Peerless Price for a 6-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left, but Buffalo failed to recover the onside kick.

"We just didn't do enough offensively in the first half to give ourselves a chance," Bills receiver Lee Evans said.

Credit San Diego's 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 10½ 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 of 172 yards rushing over its previous four games.

His two TDs gave him 106 for his career. He's already in 12th place on the NFL list; he jumped ahead of Tim Brown and Don Hutson.

Philip Rivers finished 17-for-29 for 160 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates, who led the Chargers with 90 yards receiving.

Buffalo tight end Robert Royal scored on a 5-yard catch, while Willis McGahee also scored on a 2-yard plunge.

The Bills failed in an attempt to produce a third consecutive 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 the game last week against Oakland.
The Chargers improved to 5-7 all-time when it's 40 or colder.

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