SAN DIEGO – LaDainian Tomlinson sat alone on a plastic folding chair, drumming his fingertips together and staring at the shiny silver toes on his shoes. In a moment, he would walk across the worn blue carpet to explain why the San Diego Chargers belly-flopped in yet another dive into the postseason.
Tomlinson could only hope it wouldn’t be the last time he walked through this stadium where he’s done so much for the Chargers – except shake their reputation as playoff disasters.
San Diego (13-4) made its latest ignominious exit from the NFL postseason Sunday, wasting numerous scoring opportunities and bending just enough defensively in the second half to allow the New York Jets to take a 17-14 victory in the AFC divisional playoffs.
“The reasons why and whatever aren’t going to matter,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We just didn’t do it.”
San Diego Super Chargers? Not this year, and perhaps not ever with Tomlinson, the beloved running back whose time in town could be up.
The Chargers have made just one trip to the AFC Championship Game with no Super Bowl appearances during the tenure of Tomlinson, who might have finished his storied career in San Diego with 24 yards on 12 carries — just 4 yards in the second half.
Tomlinson barely made it to this season with the Chargers, who contemplated cutting him to ease their salary cap woes. He has become one of the most beloved athletes in San Diego history during a nine-year career, but his decreased speed and production suggest his time with the club could be ending.
“I’m not sure,” Tomlinson said when asked about his future. “I’ve heard all the speculation, but I’ll tell you what, I’ve had a heck of a time here, and if it is (over), I’ve enjoyed the ride.”
The second-seeded AFC West champions had won 11 games in a row since mid-October, yet this defeat didn’t seem to be much of a surprise to the fans who grumbled nervously through the first three quarters before erupting in outright boos in the fourth.
The Chargers were the only team with a first-round bye this season who didn’t get out of this divisional round. It was San Diego’s first home playoff loss since 2006, when a 14-2 San Diego squad lost a divisional game to New England, giving up 10 points in the fourth quarter of a 24-21 loss.
For all the brilliance of Rivers and Drew Brees before him, for all the game-breaking running of Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, and for all the fierce defenders led by Shawne Merriman, the Chargers are just 3-5 in the playoffs the past seven seasons.
“When you’ve come so far and you’ve done all the right things to get in the position that we were in, to fall like this is a horrible feeling,” Merriman said. “Horrible.”