Watching from the sideline this week, former San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson liked what he saw from his protégé Melvin Gordon.
Gordon toiled through an up-and-down rookie season, but Tomlinson said he now looks like the guy who ran for more than 2,000 yards during his final season at Wisconsin. The fact that Gordon had a full offseason to master San Diego’s offense and fine tune his body to play in the NFL also helped.
On December 19, 2010 LaDainian Tomlinson reached another milestone by passing Marcus Allen for 6th on the all time yards from scrimmage list.
He finished the season leading the Jets in rushing with 914 yards, though it was widely thought he would be a complement to Shonn Greene, whom he outrushed by 148 yards. It was also Tomlinson’s first year in his entire career that he did not record double-digit TDs, as he recorded a career low of 6.
He rushed for 82 yards on 16 attempts and ran for both Jets touchdowns in a 17–16 victory over the Colts in the AFC wild card playoffs. Against the Patriots in the AFC Divisional playoffs, the Jets won 28–21 as Tomlinson rushed for 49 yards on 10 attempts and caught a touchdown. It was his 7th career postseason touchdown. In the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers, the Jets were down 24–10 in the fourth quarter when Tomlinson was unable to score a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. The Jets went on to lose 24–19. Tomlinson had nine carries for 16 yards.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said after the season that he expected Tomlinson back for 2011 but “things could change.” With Greene designated as the starting running back for 2011, Tomlinson began the season as a third-down back and caught six passes for 73 yards in the season opener.
On September 25, 2011 against the Oakland Raiders Tomlinson caught an 18-yard touchdown pass for his 160th career touchdown, joining Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice as the only players to score 160 career touchdowns.
On October 9, 2011 against the New England Patriots Tomlinson became the 6th player in NFL history to reach 18,000 yards from scrimmage. On October 23, 2011 against the San Diego Chargers Tomlinson became the 4th running back in NFL history to have 600 career receptions, joining Larry Centers, Marshall Faulk, and Keith Byars. On November 13, 2011 against the New England Patriots Tomlinson passed Barry Sanders for 5th on the all time yards from scrimmage list. On December 18, 2011 against the Philadelphia Eagles Tomlinson passed Keith Byars for 3rd on the all-time career receptions list for running backs. On January 1, 2012 against the Miami Dolphins Tomlinson passed Jerome Bettis for 5th on the all-time rushing yards list.
LaDainian Tomlinson looked at Matt Forte and instantly understood.
Six years ago, one of the greatest running backs in history felt the same blend of anger, anxiety and disbelief bubbling underneath the surface as the only team he had every played for delivered this sobering message: We don’t want you anymore.
As Forte and Tomlinson sat in the NFL Network studios this offseason watching a video clip of a fantasy football “guru” discuss the declining skills of the newest Jets ball carrier, the tension was palpable.