Tomlinson, who has rushed for the sixth-most yards in NFL history, could finish his career as high as second on the all-time list, depending on how long he wants to play. His 2006 MVP season, when he had 2,323 yards from scrimmage and 31 total touchdowns, was one of the greatest ever by a player at any position.
Yet, Tomlinson has a miserable postseason résumé that could always haunt his legacy. Running backs aren’t defined by their win-loss record in the playoffs, but it's more than that with Tomlinson, whose most passionate critics will always remember him on the sidelines in the 2007 AFC Championship game in New England, swallowed up by his helmet and hooded jacket.
Tomlinson is 5-5 in the playoffs, and that doesn't include the Chargers' 2008 divisional round loss to the Steelers, when he couldn't play due to a groin injury.
In 10 career playoff games, Tomlinson has 131 rushes for 468 yards (3.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns, and he's got 25 receptions for 176 yards and one touchdown.
While those numbers fall well below Tomlinson's career standard, his statistical output is even worse in his last eight playoff games. Tomlinson's postseason career began with two losses, but he amassed 49 carries, 203 rushing yards (4.1 yards per carry), two rushing touchdowns, 11 receptions and 117 receiving yards.
In Tomlinson's last eight games, he has recorded 82 carries, 265 rushing yards (3.2 yards per carry), four rushing touchdowns, 14 receptions, 59 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. For whatever it's worth, the Chargers and Jets had a combined 5-3 record in Tomlinson's last eight playoff games.
Tomlinson, who turns 32 in June, has one season remaining on his two-year deal with the Jets, and he told reporters Sunday that he plans to honor that contract. He'll enter the 2011 season with 13,404 career rushing yards, which is sixth on the all-time list. Here is how he shapes up with the top five in that category.
1. Emmitt Smith: 18,355 rushing yards, 4,951 yards ahead of Tomlinson
2. Walter Payton: 16,726 rushing yards, 3,322 yards ahead of Tomlinson
3. Barry Sanders: 15,269 rushing yards, 1,865 yards ahead of Tomlinson
4. Curtis Martin: 14,101 rushing yards, 697 yards ahead of Tomlinson
5. Jerome Bettis: 13,662 rushing yards, 258 yards ahead of Tomlinson
Barring injury or a severe drop-off in yardage, Tomlinson will pass Martin next season, and if he chooses to play in 2010, there's a slight possibility he could leapfrog Sanders.
Regardless of where Tomlinson finishes in the top five, his regular-season legacy has already been written. Some will call him the best back of all-time, and there is some legitimacy to that debate.
What Tomlinson really needs is a Super Bowl to hammer home his place among the game's greats. If his own history is any indication, though, Tomlinson will come up short in that department.
Do LaDainian Tomlinson's shortcomings in the playoffs tarnish his legacy? Leave your thoughts below.