Patriots Aren't Great, but They Remain Perfect

Laurence Maroney carries the offensive load to vault the Patriots into Super Bowl XLII with a 21-12 victory over the Chargers. Hours later, Eli Manning ensured his family would have a Super Bowl quarterback for the second straight year, leading the Giants to a 23-20 overtime upset of the Packers in the third-coldest playoff game in NFL history.
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 21, 2008

FOXBOROUGH, Mass., Jan. 20 -- The San Diego Chargers gave another gritty effort, and a history-changing win over the New England Patriots in Sunday's AFC title game at Gillette Stadium was theirs for the taking. They intercepted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady three times and made wide receiver Randy Moss a nonfactor.

But the Chargers didn't quite have another miracle in them. They got field goals when touchdowns were needed, and the Patriots escaped, 21-12, to take their 18-0 record into Super Bowl XLII.

"It's great to see in the biggest game of the year," said Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, "that we come up and force them to kick field goals. . . . That's our defense. Our defense always does what we need to do to win."

Fellow linebacker Mike Vrabel said the defense took its turn to carry the offense and Brady to a victory for a change.

"All year, we were either giving up touchdowns or playing great," Vrabel said. "There was no in-between. I think tonight you saw the great. . . . It was probably our turn to win a game. That was the Patriots of old, where you would just kind of hang around and make the plays when they counted."

The Patriots will try to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only undefeated teams in NFL history. But on this day, they were fortunate.

"We had some remarkable efforts," Chargers Coach Norv Turner said, "some guys laying it on the line when they probably shouldn't have been out there. . . . We had opportunities and ended up having to kick field goals."

Brady threw two touchdown passes, including a fourth-quarter strike to wide receiver Wes Welker that finally gave the Patriots some breathing room. Tailback Laurence Maroney ran for 122 yards and a touchdown.

But the Patriots were vulnerable. Moss had his second straight one-catch game and Brady's uncharacteristically sloppy performance included two interceptions that handed the Chargers field goals and another that perhaps cost the Patriots a touchdown.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, playing with a sprained knee ligament that left his status in doubt until early Sunday, toughed it out for 211 passing yards, but also threw two interceptions.

Tight end Antonio Gates played with a sprained toe and had only two catches. Tailback LaDainian Tomlinson started the game despite an injured left knee but lasted only one series plus part of another. He finished with five yards on two carries.

"He tried to go," Turner said. "He just couldn't go."

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