A week after Jaguars fans watched Fred Taylor reach the 10,000-yard rushing plateau in a Jaguars win in Tennessee, San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson will attempt to reach the 10,000-yard mark in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Sunday.
"It's an accomplishment of just perseverance and consistency over an amount of time. I think that's what it means to me the most. Ten thousand yards is pretty much the benchmark for a lot of running backs throughout their careers. They look at 10,000 yards as a goal, so I think that's the same way with me," Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson will lead the Chargers against the Jaguars in a game that carries significant postseason importance. The 5-4 Chargers hold a one-game lead over the Chiefs and Broncos in the AFC West. The 6-3 Jaguars are a game behind the Colts in the AFC South race and tied with the Titans for the number one AFC wild-card spot.
"It's too early to talk about it," Jaguars middle linebacker Mike Peterson said of the playoffs race. "It's all bunched up. Three or four weeks from now, the picture will be better."
The picture could clear significantly this weekend, as most of the AFC playoff contenders are in head-to-head clashes. Buffalo (5-4) hosts New England (9-0), Cleveland (5-4) plays at Baltimore (4-5), Kansas City (4-5) is at Indianapolis (7-2) and Tennessee (6-3) plays in Denver (4-5) on Monday night.
Tomlinson needs 91 yards rushing on Sunday to reach 10,000 yards in his career. He's averaging 81 yards per game this season, which is significantly off his 113 yards-per-game average a year ago.
"We are playing better teams this year. We are playing a lot of teams with winning records and teams that are fighting for playoff spots," Tomlinson said in attempting to explain his statistical decline.
Last year, Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns and was named league MVP. This year, he's rushed for 733 yards and eight touchdowns through nine games.
Tomlinson's fall is just part of the story. The Chargers were 14-2 a year ago. In his first season as a starter, Philip Rivers threw 22 touchdowns passes and nine interceptions and produced a 92.0 passer rating. This year, Rivers has slumped to 77.9 and has already thrown 10 interceptions.
New coach Norv Turner is getting the blame for this fall. He replaced Marty Schottenheimer when Schottenheimer lost a power struggle with Chargers GM A.J. Smith.
"I really believe through most of this we've improved as the season has gone on," Turner said.
As for Rivers: "I think Philip, when he's had time and when things have gone good for him, has made a lot of big plays. We're working through some things and we just have to eliminate the negative play and, ultimately, that's his responsibility," Turner said.
The one constant over the last two years is star pass-rusher Shawne Merriman. He's off his sacks total of a year ago – down from 17.5 to 5.5 so far this year – but you won't find anyone claiming Merriman's game is in decline. He is the league's best pass-rusher and the pressure he's put on opposing quarterbacks has helped produced a 11 turnover differential for the Chargers, who are tied with the Patriots for number one in the league in that category.
"I think they are one of the most talented teams in the league," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said of the Chargers. "Shawne Merriman is a real wrecking ball."
That's bad news for David Garrard, who will be making his first start at quarterback since Oct. 22, when Garrard sustained a high-ankle sprain against the Colts. Garrard's main concern early this week was for regaining his mobility. Merriman, of course, is the reason for Garrard's concern.
Kicker Josh Scobee may return to action. Scobee has been inactive since week two, after sustaining a quad injury in pregame in week one.
The Chargers are coming off a 23-21 upset of the Colts. Kick-returner Darren Sproles was the star of that win, having returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and taking a punt back for a score later in the first half.
Jaguars coverage teams were outstanding in the team's win in Tennessee last Sunday. The "Sproles vs. Jaguars coverage teams" matchup could be one of the game's feature attractions.
Kickoff is at one p.m.