January 09, 2007
Patriots Charged With Tough Task On Sunday
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
There is almost nothing to dislike about San Diego. The city, that is.
For natural beauty, from both a meteorological and a geological standpoint, nothing beats this slice of Heaven in the extreme southwestern corner of the USA. The weather is near perfect all year round. The various subdivisions of the city and the surrounding area make adequately describing them an exercise in futility. From Mission Valley to La Jolla to Balboa Park to the Sea World area to Coronado Island, San Diego is as pretty as it gets in this nation.
Ted Williams was born and raised here. Every other member of the Red Sox front office cut their teeth here. Stephen Neal went to college in the San Joaquin Valley some 240 miles to the north, but it's here he calls home.
There are only minor drawbacks. Freeway travel is about the same as nearby Los Angeles, as Interstate 5 has become a parking lot at most any time of the day or night. Downtown is located 17 miles north of the San Ysidro border, which means the region must deal with illegal Mexican border crossing issues on a much higher level than other comparable cities. Trying to live here is okay if you have a high paying job, but if you are a working class citizen who is paid by the hour, you might want to save your strength and become a beach bum instead.
Now you can add one more drawback to this short list. The Patriots have to go through here to get to the Super Bowl. They have a Sunday date with the Chargers, who happen to be the top seed in the conference and the only NFL team to log 14 wins in 2006. The Patriot may be jazzed by their trouncing of the Jets and former defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, but all this joy may be short lived if the Patriots fail to deal adequately with what is easily the best team in football on paper right now.
First, here's your perfunctory history lesson. The Patriots went a very long time dominating this franchise. After the Patriots left Boston and moved to Foxborough, the Patriots reeled off ten straight wins over the Chargers, from 1973 to 2001. The Patriots lost to San Diego in 1970 at Harvard Stadium, 16-14, and would not lose again until a 21-14 loss in 2002 at Qualcomm Stadium. The last two meetings between these two teams were that loss in 2002, and a jarring 41-17 loss last year at Foxborough, which broke the long 21-game home win streak of the Patriots.
If you talk playoff history between these two teams, you'd better shut up if you like the Patriots. The other playoff matchup between the Patriots and the Chargers was all the way back in 1963, the AFL title game that year. The Patriots went into Buffalo and won an AFL East playoff game, 26-8, then cruised out to Balboa Stadium on the campus of San Diego High School (back then, was San Diego small enough to be a one high school town?) to play the Bolts for the AFL title.
If you thought Super Bowl XX was bad, this one was far worse. On January 5, 1964, behind 205 yards rushing by Keith Lincoln and obscene passing by Tobin Rote and John Hadl, the Chargers throttled the Patriots, 51-3 in front of 30,127 fans. Rote had a passer rating of 150.1, Hadl's was 132.1. Lincoln ripped off a 67-yard touchdown run, while Paul Lowe had a 58-yard scoring run (and he came six yards shy of 100 yards rushing himself). Lincoln wound up with 329 all-purpose yards.
Keith Lincoln. LaDainian Tomlinson. You might want to put an equal sign between those two names. And if the Patriots aren't careful, you might wind up slapping another equal sign between Rote and Philip Rivers.
This being the first playoff meeting between these two teams in 43 years, you could very well see Tomlinson and Rivers duplicate the efforts of their famous predecessors. What is chilling is that while Lincoln gained fame as one of the best running backs in the history of the AFL, Tomlinson is already being whispered as perhaps the best running back to ever play the game. Granted, the Patriots will bring a better defense than the 1963 version, but it does warrant a bit of thinking.
Tomlinson has faced the Patriots three times in his career. He rushed for "only" 75 yards in the 29-26 overtime win by the Patriots in 2001, the game which was hailed as the first "classic" win by Tom Brady, and the first harbinger of things to come for the quarterback version of Tomlinson. But in 2002, Tomlinson bludgeoned the Patriots for a team record 217 yards, which included touchdown runs of 58 and 37 yards. And in last year's debacle at Gillette Stadium, Tomlinson recorded 134 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The moral of the story? Stop LT and you have a chance at winning on Sunday.
Of course, it's more complicated than that, but the Patriots absolutely must keep Tomlinson in check if they want to play for the AFC Championship. If they can do this, then the defense can key on taking Rivers to school, much like they did Ben Roethlisberger two years ago in the AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh. But if Rivers is able to find tight end Antonio Gates with regularity, the Patriots will continue to look like they have in the last two games against the Chargers.
If the Patriots have a decided edge in this game, it is in coaching. Marty Schottenheimer is a pitiful playoff coach, having gagged recently with two number one seeds in Kansas City in the 1990s, as well as a miserable home playoff loss to the Jets two seasons ago. Schottenheimer is 5-12 all time in the playoffs, and is known for going very conservative in his play calling. In 2006, he has had offensive coordinator Cam Cameron call the plays on offense, so that might reveal some change from Schottenheimer teams from years past.
But Belichick has already outcoached Schottenheimer. During the CBS halftime show on Sunday, James Brown asked Shawne Merriman who he felt his team matched up best with next weekend. Merriman responded with a prediction of a Jets win despite the Jets being down 17-10 at the time. The Patriots will have this little prediction in the backs of their minds, and stuff like this will help the Patriots greatly on Sunday. Merriman, meanwhile, was not the benefactor of a head coach who would advise him to never say stupid things like that in an interview on national television.
So, while all of San Diego enjoys the sands and the amusement park rides of Mission Beach, the exotic animals at their world famous zoo, the quaint shops at Seaport Village, the nightlife in the Gaslight District, or Shamu the killer whale, football fans will be into it at the confluence of Interstates 8 and 15. Lots of Charger fans and several Patriot fans will scream their lungs out at 9449 Friars Road in stunning Mission Valley, and those fans who visit from the northeast will take note at the fervor the local fans will exhibit. Charger country is packed with loyal fans, who are California laid back but, unlike their indifferent neighbors to the north, actually do support the home team and quite well.
If you go, enjoy San Diego. There is a lot to like. You'll perhaps want to move there and live out the rest of your days.
But when toe meets ball, it's all about the Patriots winning and moving on one step closer to Miami.
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