In a game between two teams with high expectations for the 2011 season, it hardly seems necessary to add another side story into the mix for an elevated level of intrigue. When a future Hall of Fame player is on the opposite sideline after spending a decade with the other however, it’s difficult to ignore that as a potentially riveting storyline. Combine that with the fact that the New York Jets were the team that unceremoniously dismissed the Bolts from the postseason the last time they made the playoffs and the plot line thickens even more.
This Sunday afternoon will be the first time that the San Diego Chargers are on the same field as LaDainian Tomlinson with the former Bolts’ back wearing a different colored uniform. Matching up with LT will be just another in the long list of General Manager A.J. Smith’s brash decisions that has the chance to haunt the Bolts.
Most are already aware of the Eli Manning deal with the New York Giants which landed the Bolts Philip Rivers, but what also needs to be taken into account with that exchange was the writing on the wall for incumbent quarterback Drew Brees. Brees would put up two sparkling years following the drafting of Rivers, but a shoulder injury combined with Rivers’ salary sitting on the bench no longer made sense as a part of the Chargers’ organization. After Brees was let go by the team following his injury, he signed with the perennial loser New Orleans Saints and their high-flying aerial attack.
In 2007, Manning’s monumental underdog New York Giants took down the Goliath-like, undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. And in near storybook fashion, Brees and those lovable losers from New Orleans hoisted the Lombardi the following year in a similarly improbable victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Why does all of this relate back to LT? Well Tomlinson was cast off from the Bolts following a rapid decline in production with the team in 2009 and signed with the Jets for the 2010 season. He hasn’t been the LT of old in New York, but in his new role as a change of pace back with 10-12 touches per game, Tomlinson has continued to be productive in limited usage.
There’s no doubt that LT will be looking at this game as an opportunity to show that the Bolts made a mistake in turning the page on him so early. Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner insists however that this game is no different than any other on the schedule and the Bolts will be focused on the team they are playing, not any one player on their roster. According to Turner’s quote in the LA Times: "He (LT) presents some real problems in terms of making sure we match up with him in third-down packages. From the emotional standpoint, we're getting ready for the Jets."
Setting aside all emotions is a difficult task when several players in the Bolts’ locker room were present when LT was the main voice behind closed doors. Obviously second year back Ryan Mathews will be quite amped up for the game as well given the fact that Tomlinson was his football idol growing up and the man he replaced in the San Diego backfield. All of these factors only heighten the importance of a week 7 clash between these two AFC foes.
For the Chargers, injuries or more importantly coming back from injuries will also play a key role in Sunday’s game. It is expected that Antonio Gates will be trying out his bad toe for the first time in a month of Sundays. Even though the team has faired well with Randy McMichael filling Gates’ role as a pass catching tight end, that extra threat of having Gates as a weapon out on the field opens up so many different areas for other receivers to thrive.
Despite the fact that Gates has returned to practice and has been testing out his recovery injury, there is still lingering doubt in the tight end’s mind. From the Associated Press: "We're making progress, but ‘One day at a time' has been our motto since this thing started," Gates said. "But it's encouraging that we're taking some steps in the right direction. The tough part is that I can go out and feel good, but the scar tissue is always in jeopardy of popping. There's always a danger of a minor setback. There's no cure that can fix the problem, especially with the force I use to run around and make plays. You just hope that you don't tear something and have a setback."
Hearing the apprehension in Gates’ comments has to be disconcerting for fans who desperately want the team’s most dynamic weapon back on the field. Cautious optimism is the outlook from most Chargers faithful and the team’s Head Coach as Norv Turner said: "I'm excited to have him out there. I'm hopeful he can play, but I don't want to put that burden of a guarantee on him or us. Hopefully, he can continue to work this week and play on Sunday."
There is clearly no shortage of headlines leading up to Sunday’s clash with the Jets at MetLife Stadium and there is plenty of excitement from the perspective of a Chargers fan. After a way above average month of September from a Bolts’ standpoint at least, there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about the coming months of football.
Now it’s your turn. Which headline is the most important to this weekend’s game; LT vs. San Diego or Chargers vs. Jets playoff rematch? Do you think that releasing Tomlinson was one of A.J. Smith’s forgettable moves or was it justified? Will LT be a big factor in Sunday’s game or will he be an after-thought for much of the contest? Do you expect to see Antonio Gates back on the field this week and what kind of an impact do you think he will make on the game? What is your prediction for this clash of AFC hopefuls? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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