SAN DIEGO (AP) — The 100-yard games have dried up, although he came close once. Those three-touchdown games seemingly are on the endangered species list.
There is talk about this perhaps being the end of a remarkable career, or at least his time in San Diego, what with his declining output and advancing age.
None of it matters to LaDainian Tomlinson.
Perhaps in his last few weeks with pass-happy San Diego, L.T. is happy and healthy going into the Chargers' playoff opener against the New York Jets on Sunday. It could be the final game at Qualcomm Stadium for one of the city's most popular athletes ever.
Three years removed from winning the NFL MVP award and setting league records for touchdowns (31) and points (186) in a season, Tomlinson doesn't mind at all that Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers spends less time handing off to him and more time throwing to Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, and 6-foot-5 wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd.
Handling the reduced role was easy for Tomlinson, one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.
"You prepare yourself for something and you accept it," Tomlinson said. "This train was going one way, and I wasn't going to be the guy to hold it up. I've never been that type of guy. I accept my role on this team and I play the best I can."
Tomlinson had 730 yards on 223 carries for an average of 3.3 yards per carry this season, all career lows. The lower numbers were due in part to the Chargers (13-3) relying more on their high-octane passing game, as well as L.T. missing the second and third games with a sprained ankle.
What he doesn't want to miss is playoff playing time, considering that his last two postseasons have been cut short by knee and groin injuries.
Now he's healthy.
"I'm excited about it," said Tomlinson, who in his ninth season has reached eighth on the NFL's all-time rushing list with 12,490 yards. "I get to go out and turn it loose, and whatever happens, happens."
Maybe he'll pile up some yards and score a few TDs?
"It would be great but even greater would be a win, and no matter how we get it done, that's what I'm focusing on. It'll be an exciting time," he said.
In his best game this year, Tomlinson had 96 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-23 home win against Philadelphia on Nov. 15. This was his first season without a 100-yard game.
His best playoff game was a 123-yard, two-TD performance in an otherwise miserable day for the Bolts, when they lost to New England in a flood of errors in a divisional game following the 2006 season.
Tomlinson has 303 yards and four scores on 84 carries in six playoff games.
Most fans remember his January injuries - although this week he became an Internet dance sensation with the release of a Nike commercial filmed in 2007.
Tomlinson remembers the frustration, "just to have done so much in the regular season and the last two years to be injured where I can't help this team out. I was probably at my lowest point. Just down, because I couldn't do anything, so it feels great to be running around healthy knowing that I'm going to play a big part in these playoffs."
Tomlinson hurt his left knee during a divisional-round win at Indianapolis two seasons ago. He tried to play in the AFC championship game at New England the next week but left after only a few plays. The team didn't do his impeccable reputation any favours when it announced in the second quarter that Tomlinson had a "sore knee" and "can return," when in reality he was done for the day.
L.T. took heat from everybody from the Bolts faithful to NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders.
"I mean, I think it was the first opportunity people had to criticize me, but I don't know anybody in the history of this league who had a sprained MCL and was supposed to have been out four to six weeks, try to come back in six days," he said. "I actually got out there on the field and played a few plays.
"People are going to take their shots because certain people have different opinions. But the bottom line is, we're football players and at all costs, no matter if we're hurt or not, we have to go out there and try to see if we can fight through it."
In 2008, Tomlinson hurt his groin in a season-ending win against Denver that propelled the Chargers into the playoffs. He didn't last long in an overtime playoff win against Indianapolis, then was sidelined for the Bolts' loss at Pittsburgh. It was the first time in his career he had to sit due to an injury.
Tomlinson, the franchise's most brutally honest employee, confirmed he had a detached tendon in his groin, while the team said only that he had a strain. General manager A.J. Smith bristled at the player's revelation.
"You know, at the end of the day I had learned from that first experience and so I kind of handled things differently the second time around," Tomlinson said. "It's really up to me to make sure I protect myself."
Rivers said he felt for his teammate.
"Both from a PR standpoint and then just physically, he had to deal with a lot the past few years," Rivers said. "Physically, nobody knows, nobody can really understand the extent except the guy. It was unfortunate that he had some things that were just so nagging, and just the hindrance of what they were, for his position. He battled through those.
"He looks as if we're headed into Week 1, with that kind of bounce in his step."
Tomlinson almost was a salary cap casualty in the off-season before reworking his contract. He turned 30 in June.
If the Chargers win the Super Bowl with Tomlinson, management could point out that he served his purpose and then have a clean separation.
Tomlinson isn't thinking about the end of his time with the Bolts, or in the NFL, for that matter.
The Chargers are three wins away from their first Super Bowl title.
"I think that would mean my career is complete, from everything I've wanted to do in this league," Tomlinson said. "That doesn't mean that I retire, because I won't until I feel like it's time."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.