LT sizzles in the cold

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- If you were a football fan, it was worth the 90-minute wait on the Peace Bridge.

Even if you were a Buffalo Bills fan, it may have almost been worth the losing proposition of sitting in the cold and snow that blustered into Ralph Wilson Stadium yesterday.

It was worth it all to see Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, a player so special he has earned right to be referred to by his initials only.

"LT is the period on the sentence," Chargers receiver Keenan McCardell said after Tomlinson provided the punctuation in a 24-21 win that didn't even hint at being that close. "It doesn't surprise us any more. But what he does still impresses us."

The 51-yard touchdown run in the first half was a thing of beauty, a burst through the left side of the line and an embarrassing breeze past Bills safety Ko Simpson.

And in the fourth quarter, Tomlinson provided the brawn, the grunt portion of a 178-yard, two-touchdown performance that pounded the Buffalo defence into submission.

His eighth carry of a drive that wound more than eight minutes off the clock was a two-yard score that gave the Chargers a 24-14 lead and as good as buried the Bills.

LT's two TDs gave him 26 rushing scores on the season, leaving him two shy of Shaun Alexander for the single-season NFL record. And his 178 yards came against a defence that often had eight men up front to try to snuff out the run but really had no chance.

"He is hands down the best player in the NFL right now," said Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, who returned to the lineup after a four-game suspension.

"Even when (the Bills defence) knew he was going to run right at them, he went out and had a game like that."

Tomlinson admitted there was something oddly compelling about playing a game in the chill. The freezing temperatures and blustery conditions yesterday provided a gritty visual he won't soon forget.

"I think it goes back to a kid growing up and you see NFL games from places like Chicago with snow and smoke coming out of your mouth," Tomlinson said. "It kind of looks cool. When it's all done, you're going to look back at those moments and say it was fun."

The Bills (5-7) were able to keep it close. But Peerless Price's meaningless touchdown in the final minute was deceiving, a bonus only to those who took the six points and made the Bills their pick in the pool.

"If we don't give them the ball, it's probably a shutout, 31-0 or something like that," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said referring to a fumble on the first series of the second half and a big Bills punt return on the second.

Buffalo's two touchdowns from those rare Chargers miscues trimmed a 17-0 halftime lead to three points. But with the ball back in the hands of Tomlinson, it was just a tease for the crowd of 63,361 at the Ralph.

The Chargers' win combined with a shocking Indianapolis Colts loss to the Tennessee Titans put the two teams at 10-2 and a draw for top spot in the AFC.

But it is the Chargers, winners of six in a row, that are starting to look like the team to fear. Especially when they have a closer that nobody can seem to hit.

"With No. 21 back there," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said of Tomlinson, who averaged a gaudy 6.4 yards per carry, "I feel it makes it very easy to call running plays."


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