has been the Chargers' offensive MVP through the first half of the season, but the players who strike fear in the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators are LaDainian Tomlinson
and Antonio Gates
. During Sunday's contest against the New Orleans Saints
, Tomlinson and Gates finally looked ready to lead this team to the Promised Land.
The timing couldn't be better for the Chargers, who head into the bye week knowing an extra week of rest should ensure both of their All Pros are healthy enough to function at 100 percent for the remainder of the season. As was evidenced during Sunday's 37-32 shootout, the tandem of LT and Gates is nearly impossible to contain when operating at full strength.
On Sunday, Tomlinson averaged a season-high 5.5 yards per carry after toting the ball 19 times for 105 yards. He also enjoyed his best game as a receiver, catching five passes for 65 yards and his first receiving touchdown of the season. LT finished with five plays of 10-plus yards, including a 40-yard run and a 32-yard reception.
Gates enjoyed a similarly redemptive performance, posting more receiving yards by halftime (65) than he had recorded in any game this season. By game's end, Gates racked up six catches for 96 yards, both of which were his best totals of the season. He also chipped in his fifth touchdown of the season, a pretty 12-yard catch on which he barely managed to keep his feet in bounds.
With Tomlinson and Gates displaying the form that helped them earn a combined nine Pro Bowl invitations, the Chargers offense played at a different level. The offense rolled up 451 net yards and 22 first downs while averaging 7.3 yards per play.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, the defense was just as bad as the offense was good. The end result is a discouraging 3-5 record to accompany an otherwise encouraging offensive performance.
There is good news on the horizon for the Chargers defense. Of San Diego's next seven opponents, none of them rank in the NFL's top-12 in points per game. If the defense can hold these middle-of-the-pack offenses to 20 points per game or less, LT and Gates should lead the Bolts to enough wins to make a playoff push.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.
There's not a lot to cheer about in Bolts-ville. The offense is turning the ball over late in games; the defense is bending and breaking; and the special teams have been anything but. Nonetheless, there is a silver-lining: The two players talented enough to salvage the season finally appear up to the task.