SAN DIEGO - LaDainian Tomlinson arrived at his locker under Qualcomm Stadium yesterday to find a small package and the growing whispers that his best days as an NFL running back were far behind.
Soft-spoken and not prone to argument, there was little he could do about the latter so he busied himself with the package. Picking it up, he discovered it was from his wife and that on it she had written, "Open Immediately."
"I was thinking it was a necklace or something, I don't know," Tomlinson said, half-giggling, the laughter having little to do with the Chargers' 31-23 win over the Eagles.
The package didn't contain jewelry but something far more precious: a pregnancy test.
"My wife is pregnant," Tomlinson said, his laughter melding with barely suppressed tears. Several years ago Tomlinson and his wife, LaTorsha, had miscarried. They had been trying to get pregnant again for some time.
Tomlinson said the gift was proof that God works in mysterious ways. In far less significant terms, it also may have helped kick-start the Chargers' running game.
"Absolutely," Tomlinson said when asked if the news had spurred him to his best game of the season. "There is something special about having a child and your wife being pregnant. I can't explain it but it was."
Tomlinson rushed for a season-high 96 yards and two touchdowns. The Chargers as a team gained 119 yards on the ground, a big improvement from the team's 69 yards average that ranked last in the NFL.
While Tomlinson attributed some of yesterday's success to the good news, his linemen took a more basic view.
"Ain't no secret to the running game," said tackle Marcus McNeill. "You just got to be more physical than the other team."
Added guard Louis Vasquez: "Just five guys up front pushing together in a monotonous way."
If his linemen were matter-of-fact about the win - the Chargers' fifth straight, moving them into a first-place tie with Denver atop the AFC West - quarterback Philip Rivers seemed thrilled that some of the offensive focus was taken off him. San Diego, which got out to its requisite slow start this season at 1-3, had been playing from behind, forcing Rivers to throw an inordinate amount.
"One reason [we were able to run] was that we were up 14-0," he pointed out. "Some of the other games we were down so quick, we had no choice but to throw every other down."
With a balanced attack - the Chargers ran 28 times, threw 25 - Rivers completed a career-high 80 percent of his passes, going 20-for-25 for 231 yards and two touchdowns.
"Our offensive line was awesome," Rivers said. "LT is a great running back."
Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was more inclined to put the Chargers' success at the feet of his defense.
"When you're playing passive football and not attacking the way we know how, any running back is going to have a pretty good day," the rookie defensive coordinator said.
Of course, this wasn't just any running back. This is a likely Hall of Famer who seems to break some milestone or another every other time he touches the ball.
His second touchdown run, a 20-yarder right up the middle in which he accelerated away from Eagles' defensive backs, gave him 146 career touchdowns, putting him past Marcus Allen for third all-time behind Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice.
By the end of the game, his 12,145 career yards had moved him past Thurman Thomas and Franco Harris for 12th all-time; Allen sits just 98 yards away in 11th.
"It's kind of surreal; I grew up watching these guys," said Tomlinson, who still has the football that Franco Harris signed for him when he was a kid. "It's a weird thing but I'm humbled because of the history of the game and watching these guys for so long."
As for the whispers, Tomlinson said he doesn't listen.
"If I start thinking about the possibilities and what everyone's saying, a person can go crazy listening to it," he said. "That's how you stay humble, not worrying what people are saying. You know the real deal and what you still can do and you put it out on the field and when it shows, then people will say 'He's right.' ''