LT, Chargers find way to beat Bears

Reed Schreck

The Chicago Bears held San Diego superstar LaDainian Tomlinson to 25 yards rushing on 17 carries — in real life.

Forget that Nike commercial where he rambles a long way through the Bears defense and scores. The Bears did the near unimaginable in stopping the NFL’s top running back for the most part in Sunday’s season opener.

Let’s repeat a segment of the preceding statement — “for the most part.” He would say it later himself. The Bears didn’t stop him completely, and thus they find themselves all alone in last place in the NFC North after a 14-3 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

On a day where the finals stats made Tomlinson look like a mere participant — instead of the usual fantasy stud — he still was the one player most responsible for sending the sellout crowd of 67,837 at Qualcomm Stadium home happy.

They stopped him on the ground — so he throws a 17-yard halfback pass to tight end Antonio Gates for the game’s first touchdown.

They stopped him through the air — and he still finds a way to run seven yards for the game’s second touchdown.

They limited him as a receiver — and he still goes 20 yards with a screen to set up that second score.

“That’s why he’s so good, so valuable to that team,” Bears defensive end Alex Brown said. “He can hurt the opposing defense in more ways than running, and he was able to do that.”

Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich will like the tape they watch early this week — for the most part.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know how many yards he had, but you know a big goal was to swarm Tomlinson,” he said. “He’s a great running back. Obviously, he’s a threat every time he touches the ball.”

Tomlinson ran off the field after the game obviously upbeat and almost skipping. He didn’t care what his stats were as long as the Chargers got the “W.”

“I went into this game not expecting to have 150 yards, especially with the kind of defense they play,” he said. “My whole thing was to be patient and take what they give me, and for the most part I did.”

Chicago linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer gave Tomlinson some credit, and his team some blame.

“He didn’t beat us, but we lost,” he said. “We can’t just take away one thing. Obviously, you want to make a team one-dimensional. But they still got some yards.

“Not a ton of yards rushing, but they got them in key spots. We know they’re going to run, we’re in run defense, we should be able to stop them and we didn’t do that.”

The Bears led 3-0 at halftime on a Robbie Gould 27-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

The Chargers didn’t score until Tomlinson’s touchdown toss with 45 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 7-3. The play that gave Tomlinson a perfect 158.3 passer rating for the day “did exactly what it was designed to do,” Hillenmeyer said. “You get everyone up playing the run, he squirts out the back. We were in a zone pressure.

“It was a good throw, too. We had two guys (Mike Brown and himself) breaking in the general direction. I don’t think there was anybody who screwed the play up. I don’t think there was a bust. It was a good call on their part. We know LT can throw the ball.”

That series was jump-started after the Chargers recovered a 22-yard punt that bounced off the leg of defender Brandon McGowan at the Bears 29.

“That shouldn’t happen,” McGowan said. “A lot of things shouldn’t happen. It was a short, short call. I didn’t hear any of it. I was so in tuned to blocking my man. It was a real short punt, and the next thing you know it came right back.

“At first, I didn’t even know until the ball was right there at the time. I was like, ‘Aw, man.’ I was thinking it was too late. I felt it” hit his leg.

Tomlinson tabbed that play as the one that got the Chargers going.

“They kept getting breaks and more breaks, and I think it finally caught up to them and they got tired and wore down,” he said. “I saw some of the guys on their sideline stretching, so I figured they were getting worn down a bit.

“In the second half, they were probably on the field more than they wanted to.”

San Diego scored on its next series, with Tomlinson scampering into the end zone to finish the scoring with 9:09 to go.

Bears quarterback Rex Grossman hit three straight passes after that to get to the San Diego 36 and stand second-and-8. But the next three running plays netted one yard, with Cedric Benson denied on a fourth-and-one.

The Chargers then ran out the final 6:02.

“You can always improve,” Grossman said. “We just shot ourselves in the foot when we couldn’t get a rhythm going. They played well; it just wasn’t our day. It was mostly our fault why we didn’t get in the end zone.”

“They made plays we weren’t able to,” Alex Brown said. “They deserved to win. Hopefully, we’ll see them again.”

NFL writer Reed Schreck can be reached at 815-987-1381 or rschreck@rrstar.com.