LT, Chargers look for 12th straight win vs Raiders

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Whether the game has been at night or during the day, in San Diego or in Oakland, early in the season or late, the formula has been shockingly similar when the Chargers play the Raiders in recent years.

LaDainian Tomlinson runs up and down the field, Raiders quarterbacks spend much of the game on their backs, and the Chargers have won 11 straight games in a now one-sided rivalry.

Heading into the season opener Monday night in Oakland, the offensive side of the formula may be changing a bit for San Diego, even if the results stay the same.

"With so many weapons we have I don't have to do what I did early in my career where we ran the ball so much," Tomlinson said. "Everything centered around me and we relied a lot on me and that running game. Now we can spread the wealth around."

With Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson emerging as one of the elite quarterback-receiver duos, Antonio Gates still a dominant tight end, and Darren Sproles becoming a legitimate change-of-pace back, L.T. no longer has to carry the entire load in San Diego.

Tomlinson, who turned 30 in the offseason, is coming off the worst year of his career, when a toe injury limited him to 1,110 yards, a 3.8 yards per carry average and 11 touchdowns. But despite his advancing age and declining production, Tomlinson still believes his best seasons might be ahead of him.

"I'm certainly not thinking I'm going to put up another season like I did last year, especially if I'm healthy," he said. "Last year I battled injuries all year. Just having the chance to be healthy again is what I'm most grateful for."

Tomlinson had only 292 carries last season, the first time in his career he didn't hit the 300-mark. Coach Norv Turner spread the ball out more on offense to capitalize on the strengths of Rivers, who tied for the NFL lead with 34 touchdown passes, and some of the other younger players.

But Turner knows he can still rely on Tomlinson if he needs to, especially because it's tougher for defenses to key on the running game.

"I'm not sure you'd want him to do that week in and week out like he's done in the past, but I think there's going to be times when he's going to have to carry the load and times when people load up in there and we do what we can to take advantage of it," Turner said.

Tomlinson couldn't have picked a better opponent to open the season against as he tries to rebound from last year. L.T. has played the equivalent of a full season, or 16 games, against the Raiders, rushing for 1,906 yards and 19 touchdowns. He has also caught three touchdown passes and even thrown for three.

He has been even better during the 11-game winning streak, averaging 127 yards rushing with 15 touchdowns on the ground, two on receptions, and two TD passes. He hasn't lost to the Raiders since the opening month of his third season in the NFL, back in September 2003.

"It's not something we think about: 'Oh, we beat them 11 times in a row,"' Tomlinson said. "We don't think about that. We focus on the game that's in front of us, if it's the Raiders, it's the Raiders. That's always been our approach. It hasn't been that long. We play them twice a year. You guys talked about 11 straight times. I remember when they were kicking our butts all the time."

Tomlinson is one of the few players in this game who can remember that. Only 10 Chargers and five Raiders were on their respective teams for that 34-31 overtime win for Oakland.

"I've never walked off the field against San Diego with a 'W' and that just leaves a bitter taste in your mouth," said Raiders fourth-year linebacker Ricky Brown.

The average score in the meetings has been 29-13, with more games decided by at least 20 points (four) than those decided by a touchdown or less (three). Oakland has committed 16 more turnovers than San Diego during the stretch and been sacked 46 times while managing just 15.

Tomlinson said the yards have been much tougher to come by in recent meetings, even if the results have been the same. He was held to 56 yards and no touchdowns in limited action in the final game of the 2007 season, when the Chargers rested many of their regulars to get ready for the playoffs.

In the first game last year in Oakland, Tomlinson was bottled up for much of the day. But he broke off a 41-yard touchdown run on his final carry to give him 106 yards in 20 rushes, and the Chargers won 28-18. He carried 25 times in the second meeting, gaining 91 yards.

It was last year's loss in Oakland that proved to be particularly haunting for the Raiders because they led 15-0 at halftime and 15-3 heading into the fourth quarter.

"It was little things. Not getting inside of a block and L.T. kind of squeezing through, small things that we could have prevented that gave us the win," linebacker Thomas Howard said. "So that's what we're focusing on."


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