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Stage is set for the Chargers

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Jan 12, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/sports/homepage/article_1542090.php">Orange County Register</a>

    By Michael Lev

    <img width="214" height="307" align="left" alt="San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson (front) gains yards as the New England Patriots' Richard Seymour (rear) tries to catch him during the first quarter." title="San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson (front) gains yards as the New England Patriots' Richard Seymour (rear) tries to catch him during the first quarter." src="http://photos.signonsandiego.com/gallery1.5/albums/chargers-patriots/chargers14.jpg" />Some will have you believe the Patriots are back. Don't buy into the hype.

    The signs suggest it. The talking heads are saying it. The scoreboard screamed it.

    The New England Patriots are back.

    Tom Brady is flinging the ball around with accuracy and poise. The defense isn't letting anyone up for air. The Bristol, Conn.-based opinion-makers like their chances. And the Patriots just walloped the crafty New York Jets, 37-16.

    But before we get out the anointing oil - which Bill Parcells apparently couldn't keep off of greasy-handed Tony Romo after all - let's remember two important facts:

    The Patriots were in this position a year ago and lost.

    They simply aren't as good as they used to be.

    Just because they defeated the Jets somewhat convincingly doesn't mean the Patriots are going to take down the Chargers on Sunday.

    New England appeared to be in championship form when it dismantled Jacksonville in the wild-card round last season, but the dynasty crashed a week later in Denver.

    Defeating a rested foe on the road in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs is one of the hardest things to do in sports. Since the league expanded the field to 12 teams for the 1990 season, road teams are 13-51 in the divisional round.

    The Patriots didn't have to play a wild-card game when they won their three Super Bowls in four seasons. They have had to the past two Januarys. It's a distinct disadvantage.

    And these Chargers are a lot better than those Broncos.

    How do we know this? Well, the past three times New England faced Denver, Denver won. The past two times San Diego faced Denver, San Diego won.

    That doesn't automatically equate to a Chargers victory over the Patriots, but keep in mind that the last time they met, the result wasa Chargers victory over the Patriots.

    It happened in Week 4 of last season in Foxborough, Mass., and it wasn't close. The final was 41-17, including 24-0 in the second half.

    "They beat us up and down the field," Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel told Boston- area reporters. "It was kind of like an NFL team vs. a college team."

    Bill Belichick undoubtedly will use that result as motivational fodder. Patriots proponents also will point out that their team was banged up that day, missing Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Matt Light, among others.

    Well, ex-Charger Harrison is out Sunday because of a sprained knee - he would have played a pivotal role against LaDainian Tomlinson if healthy - and the '06 Patriots lack two other significant championship-run assets: wily ex-USC pass rusher Willie McGinest, who had 12 solo tackles and 41/2 sacks in last season's playoffs, and super-cool kicker Adam Vinatieri, who never missed when it counted.

    New England also took hits to its receiving corps. Former Florida stars Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell rose up vs. the Jets - the start of a sweet couple of days for Gator Nation - but they won't strike fear into San Diego's sometimes-susceptible secondary. Heck, the Chargers know all of Caldwell's moves; he was one of them from 2002-05.

    The Patriots' defense is better than last year's leaky unit. New England allowed just 11 passing touchdowns during the regular season, fewer than half of last season's 25. But do thirtysomethings Bruschi and Mike Vrabel have enough speed to cover Antonio Gates up the seam or Tomlinson in space?

    The Jets' jitterbug-quick back, Leon Washington, darted through the Patriots defense for 75 yards on 15 touches. If the Chargers are smart, they will devise ways to put Tomlinson on the perimeter.

    LT is a superb pass catcher. In a piece that ran in Tuesday's edition of The Boston Globe, Tennessee linebackers coach Dave McGinnis called Tomlinson "the closest thing to Marshall Faulk I've ever seen." The Patriots thwarted Faulk in Super Bowl XXXVI by essentially tackling him every time he tried to run a route. The NFL doesn't permit those tactics anymore.

    The Patriots still have guile, Brady's leadership and Belichick's game-planning brilliance. They also have a near-defeat at home against Detroit and a 21-0 loss the next week at Miami on their '06 record. December of '06.

    The Chargers had to work for their final two victories (which were part of a 10-game winning streak) but had that precious week off to let their wounded heal. The offense that blitzed the Patriots last season is more dynamic now, even with Philip Rivers in place of Drew Brees. And Shawne Merriman, who wasn't starting in early '05, is now a Jason Taylor-esque wrecking ball.

    The Chargers are about to take the leap to elite status. The Patriots, as Sunday will reiterate, aren't on that level anymore.
     

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