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Tomlinson, Merriman lift Chargers past Rams

Oct 30, 2006 - 12:15 AM SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- LaDainian Tomlinson was "Lights Out." So was Shawne Merriman.

Tomlinson accounted for 240 total yards and three touchdowns and Merriman registered three sacks as the San Diego Chargers posted a 38-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams in an interconference contest.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Tomlinson continued to state his case as the NFL's best running back.

"Nothing that L.T. does surprises me," Rams first-year coach Scott Linehan said. "Let's just say it is what it is. The guy is a great player, maybe the best player in the league right now."

Tomlinson rushed for a season-high 183 yards on 25 carries, including TD runs of two and 38 yards in the first quarter. He also had three receptions for 57 yards, including a 25-yard TD in the fourth quarter.

"The past few weeks we've thrown the ball real well, and that makes it hard for people to bring safeties down into the box," Tomlinson said. "I think the key point was the way our offensive line was able to control their defensive line. We knocked them off the ball, and any time you're able to do that, you're going to have some running lanes."

Tomlinson tied Emmitt Smith as the second-fastest player in the league to reach 90 career touchdowns, accomplishing the feat in 86 games.

"For me, I've never been the type to dwell on records and the milestones," Tomlinson said. "I figure if you start to think about it and dwell on it, you get satisfied, and for me, that's not the case. I'll think about it and hopefully pat myself on the back at the end of my career."

While Tomlinson carried the offense, the Chargers (5-2) had to be happy to have Merriman.

The NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, Merriman is facing a four-game suspension for reportedly violating the league's steroids policy. The outside linebacker is playing until his appeal is heard on November 7.

"It really wasn't a distraction to me personally," Merriman said. "When it first came out in the papers, I got a chance to talk to the team, and I apologized to them for it being a distraction to the team. I knew I had to go out there and perform regardless, especially when we're at home."

Nicknamed "Lights Out" for his propensity to deliver big hits, Merriman wreaked havoc in the Rams' backfield all afternoon. He took over the league lead with 8 1/2 sacks.

Free safety Marlon McCree returned a fumble 79 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter for the Chargers, who have won their three home games by a combined 101-44. San Diego is tied with Denver for first place in the AFC West.

Marc Bulger threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns for the Rams (4-3), who remain tied with Seattle for first place in the NFC West.

The Chargers set the tone on the game's opening possession, taking nearly eight minutes to move 80 yards in 12 plays. Tomlinson capped the march with a two-yard TD run.

After the Rams went three-and-out, the Chargers increased the lead to 14-0 on Tomlinson's 38-yard touchdown run.

"(Tomlinson) is a great back," Rams free safety O.J. Atogwe said. "I knew he had a lot of power. I just tried to get my arms around him and he pretty much outmuscled me. He's going to be a future Hall of Famer, the best back in the game. I take my hat off to him."

"We did a better job of keeping some running lanes clean for (Tomlinson)," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I thought the offensive line did a much better job."

Steven Jackson, who rushed for 84 yards on 18 carries, scored on a three-yard run less than three minutes into the second quarter to pull the Rams within 14-7.

In the third quarter with the Rams driving for the potential tying score, McCree came up with a momentum-changing play.

Bulger found Isaac Bruce for 37 yards to the San Diego 29. On the next play, veteran Stephen Davis fumbled. McCree fell on the ball, got to his feet after not being touched and raced down the right sideline, making it 21-7 with 8:56 left in third quarter.

"He hadn't had a lot of opportunities, and they just got the ball out on the play," Linehan said. "He's been pretty good with the ball in his career. That's not the only mistake we made in the game. We made several others."

After the teams traded field goals, Michael Turner capped an eight-play, 84-yard drive with a 14-yard TD run with 11:44 remaining to give San Diego a 31-10 advantage. Philip Rivers highlighted the march with a 26-yard completion to Tomlinson to the St. Louis 14.

Bulger hit Shaun McDonald for a seven-yard score with 6:39 left. But Rivers found Tomlinson down the right sideline for a 25-yard TD with under four minutes left.

Rivers completed 15-of-23 passes for 206 yards without a turnover.

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