LaDainian Tomlinson put the finishing touches on his first win as a Jet.
With a two-touchdown lead on Sunday, the Green & White were in control of the Patriots with just 2:44 remaining. But the visitors still had two timeouts and the two-minute warning with the Jets facing a fourth-and-1 from midfield. The conservative approach would have been to allow Steve Weatherford to punt away, but head coach Rex Ryan turned to Tomlinson.
"He has a lot of confidence in us and knowing him, I just felt like we may go for it and just try to put the game away," Tomlinson told me during his first of four scheduled appearances on "Four Quarters," a new show on newyorkjets.com that will also feature monthly appearances from Jim Leonhard, Bart Scott and a soon-to-be named fourth guest.
"Whenever they call the play, I just knew we had to get it. There was no question we weren't going to get stopped there — we had to get it done."
The 31-year-old Tomlinson has had no difficulty getting it done in his first two games with New York's AFC representative, averaging 6.3 yards a rush on his 22 carries. But all he needed was three feet on this play to cement an impressive victory and he determined a jump would seal it.
"When I got into the huddle, I said, 'Guys, I may jump over the top.' Big Brandon Moore said, 'You may not have to,' and I said, 'OK, yeah, that will work too,' " he said. "But as the play got going, I saw everybody hit the ground — the Patriots, they all got low — and my linemen did a great job not allowing any penetration.
"Once I saw the air was clear, I just kind of jumped through there and got the first down."
"This Team Has Rejuvenated Me"
He got 3 yards and NMS exploded as the Jets celebrated their second consecutive home triumph over their rivals from the north. Tomlinson, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who is 111 yards behind Tony Dorsett for seventh place on the NFL's all-time rushing list, is feeling cozy in his new home.
"I'm having a lot of fun. Being around these guys, this coaching staff, being on this team has rejuvenated me and I feel like a young man running around out there," he said. "I'm having fun like a kid again, so I am going to keep that passion all year long and we're going to need our fans to have the same type of passion — especially when we play at home."
"He's enjoying himself here. He's excited about being here," said CB Antonio Cromartie, who played the past four seasons with Tomlinson in San Diego. "He is anxious to prove everyone wrong. Everyone says that he's 31 years old and he's headed for a downfall, but he's going out and proving everyone wrong."
Five months after he signed as a free agent, Tomlinson was asked by newyorkjets.com if he's been surprised by anything and the prideful runner pointed to Jets Nation.
"I never knew how emotional and passionate the fans are here about football. Of course, I played here once or twice and they were great fans then, but playing here and being part of this team — it's a different story," he said.
It's probably because the last time Tomlinson visited the Jets — Nov. 6, 2005 — the former Chargers great sucked the life out of the Meadowlands with a 107-yard, three-TD rush effort to go along with three catches for 46 yards and one receiving TD. That scoring catch went for 25 yards as he made a memorable ridiculous cut to leave Ty Law in his dust.
"The Best Thing in My Life"
Almost five years has elapsed since then as Tomlinson is celebrating a new team and a new family member. LaDainian's wife, Torsha, gave birth to the couple's first son, Daylen, on July 8.
"He's awesome. I never thought I could love something so much and this kid has been the best thing in my life," he said. "My wife and I actually talk about it all the time that this is the best thing we've done is having our son Daylen. He's starting to move around, he's sleeping. It's just going awesome."
Daylen usually rises a little bit earlier than his father these days. But LaDainian opens his eyes to a bundle of joy, a precious baby who's constantly on his mind when he's off battling at work.
"Once I wake up, he's looking at me and staring at me," Tomlinson said. "That face is motivation to not only go to work in the morning but coming home and actually playing my butt off, making sure I do whatever it takes so that he can be proud one day and can say, 'You know what, my pop was OK.'"
LaDainian got into football at a young age himself in his native Texas, viewing games with his father and taking to both Walter Payton and then Emmitt Smith.
"I remember watching Walter Payton and my daddy always used to tell me, 'That's the greatest football player to play the game.' I just remember that and for some reason I wanted to be like him. As a kid he was a reason I wanted to be like a running back," he said. "As Walter retired and he handed the stick over to Emmitt, I became a Cowboys fan and Emmitt Smith was my guy."
"Fight Them Until Hell Freezes Over"
Not heavily recruited out of University High School in Waco, Texas, Tomlinson helped a rebirth at Texas Christian University (the Frogs are currently ranked fourth in the AP poll) as he became the second player in college football history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and 5,000 in a career.
"We started something there, a tradition, a pride in the way we played," he said. "We had a saying that the old coach, Dutch Meyer [TCU head coach from 1934-52] used and we kept it on our wall and it was right there before we went out of the tunnel and it's 'Fight Them Until Hell Freezes Over and Then Fight Them on Ice.' That was our saying and we started that pride thing and it's carried over and the young guys have done a great job of continuing that tradition."
Still fighting in his 10th pro season, Tomlinson remains a special player. Strong, elusive, quick and intelligent, he has been a coach's dream.
"Is he actually better than I thought he would be? Yep, he is," said head coach Rex Ryan today. "I thought he was going to be outstanding. He's even better than I thought."
You can expect plenty of more touches for No. 21 because he's anything but finished.