- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- While Gillette Stadium might harbor unpleasant memories for the Jets and their fans, LaDainian Tomlinson is new to the grudge that fostered them. However, the Jets running back spent his own dark day there three years ago when he had the chance to leave the AFC Championship Game with a trip to the Super Bowl.
Instead, he left with a handful of yards and a busted knee, and started down a slide that didn't end until a year later when he severed ties with the Chargers.
"Returning to the scene of the crime, pretty much," Tomlinson said, standing in front of his locker at the team's Florham Park training facility. "Kind of the way I look at it, because it was a tough day, probably one of the toughest days of my career, not being able to help my team, just sitting there injured, sitting there, down.
"So yeah, I obviously think about that, but it's a different team now, a different mindset, so it is a bit different."
Tomlinson has had his issues with the Patriots, and specifically coach Bill Belichick. During the 2007 playoffs, the usually diplomatic Tomlinson had some harsh words for the Patriots' players and Belichick after one of his Chargers teammates was mocked for a touchdown celebration.
"And just the fact that they showed no class at all," Tomlinson said back in 2007. "Absolutely no class. And maybe that comes from their head coach. So you know, there you have it."
The two apparently mended the fence at the Pro Bowl later that season. Tomlinson said it all seems very long ago now, a situation that he has had to distance himself from in order to fit in with his new teammates. Since he arrived, he has seen firsthand the intensity of the rivalry between the Jets and Patriots as they prepare for a Monday night meeting, but he doesn't feel fully a part of it yet.
"I don't hate them; I respect them, but at the same time, it's one of those teams that's like a thorn in your side," Tomlinson said. "So you want to get it done."
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Tomlinson excels under that kind of pressure. He said he's noticed Tomlinson hear the boos on the road and lift up his arms, gesturing for the crowd to get louder.
"It's his way of saying it doesn't matter," Schottenheimer said.
So far this season, Tomlinson, 31, has 166 carries for 741 yards and five touchdowns in addition to 45 catches for 329 yards. He's been deft on his feet, pivoting and evasive, reminiscent of his much younger self.
He said he "absolutely" hopes to play for the Jets next season, the second of a two-year deal he signed when he arrived before this season. Tomlinson said he felt he proved himself and that it was something he needed to do.
"Every year, you really have a a one-year contract if you think about it," Tomlinson said. "So every year, you better have something to prove. But more so this year than anything, because people felt I was on the downside of my career and I was on my way to being out of the league."
He is not on his way out, even if he hasn't had a touchdown in the past four games.
Instead, he is going back up to face the Patriots on Monday night. Where he can scuff away any premature chalk outlines at the scene of the crime.
LaDainian Tomlinson had a rough time during his last visit to Gillette Stadium.