There's playoff history between Patriots, Chargers

Glen Farley

The New England Patriots are hoping to strike the lightning twice.

When they take the field at Gillette Stadium for Sunday afternoon’s AFC Championship Game, the Patriots will be aiming to eliminate the Chargers from the AFC playoffs for the second straight season.

At the same time, the Pats will be looking to defeat the Chargers for the second time this season.

Make no mistake about it. There is a history here.

“I don’t think anything that’s happened in the past has all that much bearing on it,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during a conference call Sunday afternoon. “It’s going to be whatever team is able to perform the best next Sunday. That’s the team that’s moving on. We all know that.”

The Chargers overcame knee injuries to running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers to upset the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, 28-24 on Sunday in their AFC divisional-round game inside the RCA Dome.

It was a year ago today when the Patriots rallied for 11 points in the final 4:36 to topple the Chargers, 24-21, in an AFC divisional-round meltdown by the Bolts at Qualcomm Stadium that subsequently led to Marty Schottenheimer’s dismissal as head coach.

“Last year,” Belichick said, “was a whole different coaching staff so I wouldn’t worry too much about that game.”

First-year Chargers head coach Norv Turner’s team wasn’t nearly so competitive against the Patriots in falling 24 points behind at halftime and absorbing a 38-14 pounding at Gillette in a game played slightly less than four months ago.

Again, Belichick said, that was a football lifetime ago.

“I think the games they played recently are the most important games,” Belichick said of the Chargers, who have won eight straight to reach their first AFC title game since 1994. “We’ll certainly reflect on our game in September, but that was a long, long time ago.”

It would be hard to believe, though, that the strained feelings that have existed between these two teams have been forgotten.

A year ago, the Chargers took exception to the Patriots’ antics on their home turf, capped by cornerback Ellis Hobbs’ postgame impersonation of linebacker Shawne Merriman’s “Lights Out” sack dance on the Chargers’ lightning bolt logo at midfield.

No NFL wallflower himself, Rivers barked at Hobbs, calling him “the sorriest corner in the league.”

Tomlinson, who also voiced his objections over the Patriots’ behavior in San Diego, was also outspoken following the Patriots’ “Spygate” video scandal this season, saying: “I think the Patriots actually live by the saying, ‘If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.’ They live off that statement. Nothing surprises me really.”

The underdog Chargers’ most recent outing was shocking in some respects as they somehow overcame injuries to Tomlinson (suffered in the first half) and Rivers (third quarter). On top of that, tight end Antonio Gates was hobbled by a dislocated big left toe he suffered in the Chargers' 17-6 wildcard win over Tennessee the previous week.

Employing a lineup one might expect to see in August, but certainly not in January, with Billy Volek directing the offense and Michael Turner (17 carries for 71 yards) doing the bulk of the ball carrying, the Chargers covered 78 yards in eight plays for the game-winning score, a 1-yard sneak by the quarterback with 4:50 remaining.

The Chargers’ defense, which received an off-the-charts performance from Wareham’s Stephen Cooper (16 tackles) at inside linebacker, subsequently turned the Colts away after they had driven to a first-and-goal at the 9.

As for the Patriots, Sunday’s matchup will represent their fifth trip to the AFC Championship Game in Belichick’s eight seasons as head coach, their only loss being last year’s 38-34 setback inside the RCA Dome, which denied them a bid to play for their fourth Super Bowl title during his reign.

“Whatever we’ve done to get to this point, now we’re at the same point we were at last year,” Belichick said. “I think the big thing is we just understand that, what we have to do going forward. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do better this time.”

The Enterprise