SAN DIEGO (AP) -After the San Diego Chargers lost at Jacksonville in mid-November to fall to 5-5, LaDainian Tomlinson called a players-only meeting.
The most brutally honest member of the organization, Tomlinson had a simple message - that the Chargers were still in first place in the AFC West and still had time to straighten things out.
``I don't know if you always want to wait that long,'' Tomlinson said Wednesday, when he was elected one of the Chargers' five captains.
The others are quarterback Philip Rivers, outside linebacker Shawne Merriman - who will play despite having two torn ligaments in his left knee - defensive tackle Jamal Williams and special teams standout Kassim Osgood.
For what it's worth, the Chargers followed up that meeting by winning eight straight games. They didn't lose again until they were ushered out of the postseason in a 21-12 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.
The Chargers, a popular pick to make it to the Super Bowl, open the season at home Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
While he once preferred to lead by example, Tomlinson has embraced being a captain.
``It's always an honor. I'm glad my teammates still view me as a captain,'' said Tomlinson, the two-time defending NFL rushing champion and the league's MVP in 2006. ``It's always very humbling. At the same time, there's a lot that goes along being a captain. You have to take that role serious.''
Timing is everything, he's found.
``A lot of times you can tell when guys are waiting to hear from one of the captains. You can just kind of feel it,'' Tomlinson said. ``Once you have that feeling, pretty much that's when a captain's supposed to step up and say something, or leading by example as far as out there on the field. For a long time I did that. I was a captain but I led by example. Either-or.''
Merriman has never been shy about saying what's on his mind.
``By being a captain, guys believe in you,'' said Merriman, who decided to play rather than have surgery on his injured left knee.
``Our players voted and the thing that's impressive with our guys is the number of votes each of those guys got,'' coach Norv Turner said. ``It's by a far majority.''
Tomlinson thinks the Chargers are well-suited for success this year, particularly after they struggled to adapt during Turner's first season as their head coach. They rebounded from records of 1-3 and 5-5 and won in the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons, beating Tennessee and then eliminating the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.
``I think the only way it really helps us is not panicking in any situation you may be in, and that's with your record throughout the season, or during a game,'' Tomlinson said. ``Experience has showed us that we can be down by 14 points in the fourth quarter and still win a game. We can be down by 21 points in the first half and still win a game.
``Experience gives you that. When you have a team that hasn't been there, then of course you're going to panic: 'Oh my goodness, we're down 21 points in the second half, maybe we need to throw the ball all over the place.' But this team has experienced stuff like that and I think it's going to help us as the season goes along.''
Also Wednesday, left tackle Marcus McNeill missed practice and visited a doctor. He's been bothered for nearly a month with a stinger in his neck. L.J. Shelton is expected to start in his place on Sunday.
Center Nick Hardwick also will sit out as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery.
Hardwick hasn't said when he might be back.
``I can't tell you that yet,'' he said. ``Standard line - everything's progressing. I've just got to stay on the incline, I guess. I'm on track.''
Jeremy Newberry, signed in the offseason, will start in Hardwick's place.

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