By Jim Thomas

SAN DIEGO Sitting on the sidelines all afternoon wasn't the homecoming Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa envisioned just one week ago. But a broken left hand Wednesday kept the San Diego native out of the lineup against the Chargers.

Although he dressed, Tinoisamoa didn't play in the Rams' 38-24 loss.

"Especially against a guy like LT, we needed the best chance available, and I wasn't that best chance," Tinoisamoa said. "We had to go with 'Coak.' "

Veteran Dexter Coakley started in Tinoisamoa's place at weakside linebacker. Coakley had four tackles according to unofficial pressbox stats. Meanwhile, San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson aka LT finished with a season-high 183 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns against the Rams.

Tinoisamoa suffered the hand injury Wednesday in the second half of the Rams' practice.

"I tried to brace myself on a fall," Tinoisamoa said. "This arm's already weak."

It's weak because Tinoisamao suffered a dislocated left elbow in Game 2 against San Francisco ... bracing himself on a fall. Maybe he needs to come up with a new technique.

"People have been trying to tell me: Get a new tactic," Tinoisamoa said. "But when you catch yourself your whole life with your arms ... it's just an unfortunate event."

Tinoisamoa tried to find an effective cast for the hand. But the hand got more swollen as the week progressed, making it impossible to be fitted comfortably with any protection.

"It got a lot worse," Tinoisamoa said, his left hand puffy in the visitors' locker room at Qualcomm Stadium.

It was the first game missed by Tinoisamoa, a 2003 Rams draft pick, as an NFL player.

Reed sits again

For the second straight game, kickoff returner J.R. Reed was on the Rams' pregame inactive list. Against Seattle, Kevin Curtis handled kickoff returns, losing a fumble that led to a Seahawks go-ahead touchdown. On Sunday, Tony Fisher handled the return chores, his first returns since returning two kickoffs as a Green Bay rookie in 2002.

Fisher averaged a modest 20.3 yards against the Chargers, with none of his six returns going longer than 23 yards.

Besides Reed, also sitting for the Rams were LB Jon Alston; DE Tony Bryant; CB Jerametrius Butler; TE Dominique Byrd; OG Mark Setterstrom; and C-G Larry Turner.

Point, counterpoint

Wide receiver Torry Holt engaged in some sideline chatter with Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer midway through the third quarter during an instant-replay challenge. Schottenheimer challenged whether a 20-yard reception by Holt along the Rams sideline was a catch.

"Torry told me, 'You know I didn't drop it,' " Schottenheimer said afterward. "And I told him, 'The only reason you're talking to me is because you know you didn't catch it.'"

Actually, referee Walt Coleman agreed with Holt, ruling it a catch.

Both fullbacks play

Madison Hedgecock suited up despite wearing a bulky cast to protect his surgically repaired broken right thumb. Paul Smith played for the first time since suffering an eye injury to start the second half of the Rams' victory over Detroit on Oct. 1. The two split duties at fullback against San Diego.

Smith, one of the team's top special-teams performers, played on the kickoff-return unit. But he was not used at his specialty: wedge busting on kickoff returns. That's how he got hurt in a colossal collision against Detroit. After missing two games, Smith returned to action about three weeks ahead of schedule.

"Paul's one of those guys that there's not many tougher," coach Scott Linehan said. "If there are, I'd like to meet them."