L.T.'s Trainwreck: What Happened In San Diego, and How He'll Come Back

Ryan NelsonCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2010

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 17:  Running back LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers runs with the ball against the New York Jets during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

He's one of sports most decorated heroes. He holds the NFL record for most touchdowns in a single season with 28, set is 2006. He had 7 consecutive 1000-plus yard seasons. From 2001 to 2007, LaDainian Tomlinson was the Hallmark for the 21st-Century running back. His smooth style, and team-first mentality, made the opposing defenses bow before him. Tomlinson, who attended TCU as a Horned Frog, is among one of the greatest names in NFL history.

However, over the last few years, Tomlinson seems to have hit the proverbial "wall." Not only did he hit the dreaded 30-year-old mark as an NFL running back, multiple late-season injuries have brought doubt, not only to his durability, but to his career. Tomlinson has had a slide since 2007. Last year, he had his first sub-1000 yard year, only racking up 730 yards. Over the last two years, hist average went from 4.7 yards-per-carry in 2007, to 3.8 YPC in 2008, to an insignificant 3.3 yards in 2009. His failure on the ground is in direct correlation with San Diego's offensive failures.

So what happened to the Hall of Fame-bound Tomlinson of 2006? Most people say he's just too old to play NFL level football anymore. Others might point out the fact that he's becoming injury-prone. In this article, I'm going to look at both those items, and afterward, I'm going to walk through how LaDainian Tomlinson can, and will, find his new place in the NFL.

We all know that age is inevitable. But is age really the problem with L.T.? I don't think so. In fact, I think his problem is with his offensive line, and the lack of reliability in his defense. The fact of the matter is, San Diego (much like the U.S. Dollar) has become over estimated and "inflated" in many ways. Not to say they are a bad team, but the Chargers have simply become the Dallas Cowboys of the AFC. Every year, we hear it, "This is the year for San Diego! They're going to win the Big One!" Well, they never really do. They close every year, only to find that their offense sputters and their defense is leaky at best. A lot of blame is placed on LaDainian Tomlinson. But I don't really think it's L.T.'s fault. If you look at the stats  for the playoffs in 2008, the offensive line gave up 8 sacks. In 2009, they gave up 5 in the playoffs. The offensive line simply becomes porous in the post-season. But L.T. is blamed simply because of the expectations placed on him.

One of the reasons so many people blame Tomlinson for San Diego's postseason woes is his seemingly constant injury problem. Over the last few years, Tomlinson has been forced to sit with 3 major injuries, especially his toe. He's gotten better, but these injuries are a direct result of him being a starting back. Darren Sproles, while not a better back than Tomlinson, is more healthily reliable.

So where do we go from here? Tomlinson signed with the New York Jets on Sunday, adding to a potent rushing attack. But there's a problem here. Earlier this year, the Jets cut Thomas Jones, their rushing leader. Normally this would be a good thing. But as time in San Diego has proved, when Tomlinson is the feature back, he becomes injury-plagued and an inefficient back.

However, here is the flip side of this coin. As I said, in San Diego, the offensive line hurt Tomlinson. But in New York, his chances are much better to bounce back. He has a chance to be the back of his golden days in New York. Tomlinson's pure talent and vision will provide the Jets running attack with a thoroughbred who can dominate the playing field. Maybe he'll even break out the dark visor.

I'm by no means saying the Jets will win the Super Bowl, but with Tomlinson, it is a legitimate possibility. However, I'm bracing myself for the possibility of a Favre-ism wearing "Tomlinson" on his name tape. The late season fizzle (or injury) seems to be the issue. So be ready Jets fans, either for disappointment, or for glory. Maybe you'll get another celebration like Super Bowl XLII, this time for the other half of New York City.