Tomlinson shines
The Buccaneers' top-ranked pass defense picked Chargers quarterback Drew Brees twice in the inter-divisional matchup with San Diego. Before meeting the Bucs, Brees had been intercepted four times this season. The pass defense did its part. It was the run defense that could not keep up with the lightning-quick LaDainian Tomlinson. Tomlinson ran for 131 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.

Chargers' teammates Keenan McCardell and Roman Oben, both former Bucs, said Tomlinson is unlike any running back they have ever played with. ``He is different. His presence, his carries [the number and consistency], he's unbelievable,'' McCardell said. ``I told him on the sidelines, I'm on getting on your back, I'm going to ride you in. ... He's in the groove. LT's in the zone, he's healthy. He's just a big part of the offense.''

Oben's appreciation for Tomlinson comes from the running back's versatility and ability to create plays. ``It's amazing what he does when he has the ball in his hands,'' Oben said. ``He really charges up the offense, charges up 70,000 people. What he does when the ball is in his hands ... you never know what he's capable of.''

For a smaller back, Tomlinson spends a lot of time running between the tackles. He carried 22 of his 25 runs inside the big guys, including his longest run of the day for 35 yards, and his 7-yard touchdown run. He is used to the spotlight, and the past three years, Tomlinson has been a solo act. But with the Chargers 10-3 and sitting on a two-game divisional lead in the AFC West, having other players emerge as playmakers makes winning even more enjoyable for Tomlinson.

``Everybody contributed to the win,'' Tomlinson said. ``The [offensive] line doesn't say much, but they play with honor and pride ... and it was the defense that really won this game for us. This is the ultimate team game and no one person is more important than others; it takes everyone to win games. Having the guys like Eric Parker that can simply make plays, takes some of the burden and the attention.''

And coming into this game against a highly touted, improving Buccaneers defense, Tomlinson said the talk ignited the Chargers' offense. ``With all the talk about their defense, I kind of took it personally. It made us feel jealous. That's just the way athletes are,'' Tomlinson said. ``We wanted to come out and play with a chip on our shoulder.''

With their surprising success - seven wins in a row - the Bolts know the rest of the NFL is watching Southern California more carefully. ``The carrot's out there in front of us,'' McCardell said, ``and the only way to get it is to take it one game at a time and play together as a team. We have one thing in mind, and that's to get the W.''

Julie Buehler The Tampa Tribune 13 December 2004