|When it comes to finding the end zone, no one tops LT. (US Presswire)|
LaDainian Tomlinson was a dynamic running back who came along at the perfect time: NFL teams still wanted a dominant back to lead offenses, but the passing game had evolved to the point that if that running back had great hands, it was all the better. And Tomlinson did have great hands. He was also compact yet powerful, elusive yet explosive. He was a durable workhorse who ground out yards and wore teams down just before exploding for huge runs.
But most of all, LdT had a nose for the end zone like no player in the history of the NFL.
When I wrote the newser for Tomlinson's retirement, I focused on his incredible 2006 season, and how can you blame me? The Bolts back ended up in the end zone a record number of times, scoring 28 rushing touchdowns, catching three more and, lest we forget, throwing for a pair as well. That season, he set the record for most-consecutive games with two (8), three (4), and four or more touchdowns (2). Maybe the craziest stat is that, in 2006, Tomlinson scored a touchdown every 13.16 times he touched the ball, with his 31 total scores coming on 408 total touches.
31's the most touchdowns in a season, 28's the most rushing touchdowns in a season and it seems really, really unlikely that anyone will break LT's record any time soon. Not only is the NFL moving away from rushing attacks, but the league features more and more running-back-by-committee offenses. Plus, you know how many times since 2006 someone's had more than 20 rushing touchdowns? Zero. In fact, in the past five years, only nine players have had more than 15 rushing touchdowns in a single season.
That Tomlinson shattered records and piled up scores during the rise in popularity of fantasy football, while doing it as the first guy to rock a dark visor and helping to revive the Chargers only made him a more impressive and popular player.
Now, you could make the case that Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were more prolific at scoring touchdowns. After all, Rice (208) and Smith (175) had more touchdowns in their careers than Tomlinson.
But both Rice and Smith had longer careers. Rice played in 303 career games, meaning he scored 0.69 touchdowns per game in his career. Smith played in 226 career games, meaning he scored 0.77 touchdowns per game. Tomlinson, however, only played in 170 games, meaning he scored an unholy 0.95 touchdowns per game over his career.
All three of those guys went on to play for an extra team (or 12 in Jerry's case), with much less success. As a member of the Chargers, Tomlinson averaged 1.09 touchdowns per game. He was the fastest running back to 100 touchdowns in NFL history.
But here's the thing: Tomlinson wasn't some one-trick pony when it comes to scoring. He was ridiculous in the red zone, managing to elude tacklers on screens, draws, off-tackle runs or whatever the Bolts would call for him (a great example was his run to tie Shaun Alexander's 28 touchdowns. If San Diego got within five yards of the end zone, forget it -- LT's elusiveness would suddenly morph into bowling-ball power and he was getting his six points.
And man did he make some ridiculous receptions too. His 101st touchdown was a sick semi-wheel route up the seam that went from a dump-off pass on third and three into a 50-yard rumble to the end zone against the Broncos in primetime.
As I tweeted on Sunday, though, my favorite stat on Tomlinson all-time is that he leaves the game 8/12 for 143 yards and seven touchdowns ... as a passer. Package his career highlights together and you get a sick compendium of touchdowns.
You could argue, as Marty Schottenheimer once did, that LT is the "finest running back ever to wear an NFL uniform." I would, personally, agree with you. Tomlinson's career puts him among the best when it comes to every single relevant rushing NFL statistic.
His ability to find the end zone and score touchdowns gobs puts him over the top, though, when you start listing the all-time greats.
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