There was an electric buzz in the air, a storm blew through New Meadowlands Stadium before the game, and once the game started a former "lightning bolt" made his mark on the field.
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson demonstrated that he still has the ability to play at a high level in the NFL after his performance during the Jets' 31-16 loss to the Giants in the Monday night preseason opener.
"I thought he ran the ball well, did a great job receiving the ball," head coach Rex Ryan said. "It was kind of strange for Tomlinson because I think this might have been the first preseason game he's played in about five or six years. But with us, he did a great job. I was proud of him."
In the first ever game in the new stadium, Tomlinson carried the ball eight times for 17 yards and made a catch for 14 yards. In addition, LT had a 16-yard touchdown run called back because of a holding penalty. Regardless, it still caused an explosion of celebration from Jets fans who saw that their running back will be an asset this season.
"It was good to get that rust off and get into game shape," Tomlinson said. "It was great, it was really a blast. The fans were great. It was exciting. I look forward to many more games in this stadium."
The eight carries Tomlinson got in this game equaled the most he's ever gotten in the preseason, during San Diego's game at Arizona last year, while his nine touches were the second-most in the preseason, behind the 10 in that game. The most touches he'd gotten during an entire preseason was 15, also last year. As a result of his stature and regular-season workload, he has rarely played in the preseason. But he was geared up and focused for this game.
"It was Monday night," Tomlinson said. "It was a big game playing the Giants. We knew we were going to play about a half. Every time you go out there you want to give it your all and you want to be into the game, don't treat it like a preseason game. You're trying to win it."
Unfortunately for the Jets, they lost, but the first team played well and took a 13-10 lead into halftime, at which point the starters left the game. Even after Giants quarterback Eli Manning departed with a gash to the head, veterans such as Tomlinson and fellow Green & White newcomer Jason Taylor stayed in the action.
"I think it's great to get him all those touches," Taylor said. "I doubt he's used to seeing the ball so much in the preseason, but there is definitely no question of whether or not he still has that burst everyone keeps talking about."
That spurt has been evident for years, since Tomlinson entered the league with the Chargers as the fifth overall selection in the 2001 draft. During his career he's rushed 2,880 times for 12,490 yards and 138 touchdowns. In addition, he has caught 530 balls for 3,995 yards and 15 touchdowns. He will be essential in the Jets' passing attack and has the ability to throw the ball himself. For his career he has a 146.9 passer rating on 8-of-12 passing and seven touchdowns.
Tomlinson described his 14-yard reception, which resulted in a huge first down one play before the Jets scored their only touchdown.
"It's something we call a balloon route. It's an option," Tomlinson said. "I broke across the field and Mark [Sanchez] did a great job of finding me. I caught the ball and got up field."
That moment drew huge cheers from the crowd of 67,511 and elicited an emotional outburst from Tomlinson. The former TCU Horned Frog has impressed his teammates so far, including backfield mate Danny Woodhead.
"You guys saw it. He can still play," Woodhead said. "No matter what anyone else says, he has had a great camp and I fully expect him to keep on playing great."
One way Tomlinson hopes to jumpstart his second NFL stint is by getting reps in the preseason to get totally ready for the regular season. In past years, his Septembers were a little less productive before his numbers increased as the season went on and he got into a groove. For the 10-year veteran, playing in the preseason is just one more way to improve his game.
"That's getting prepared for the regular season," Tomlinson said. "I always felt like not playing in the preseason, I got off to a slow start. It was good to kind of get back into football shape and get hit and get some rhythm with Mark and the offensive line."
Here are Tomlinson's preseason offensive touches in his 10 NFL seasons, the first nine with San Diego (*with Jets after one game):