Pats win David vs Goliath battle

The Chargers proved they were a formidable opponent, but were unable to overcome the Patriots' running game.

The San Diego Chargers told reporters all week that it was David versus Goliath. The Chargers were David and the New England Patriots were Goliath. Last year, the Patriots upset the Chargers 24-21, despite San Diego's 14-2 record. On Sunday, the Chargers proved they were a formidable opponent, even though quarterback Phillip Rivers played on one knee, Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson had only two carries for five yards because of a bad MCL and tight end Antonio Gates had two catches for 17 yards. 21-12 is not a blow out, by any stretch, but the Pats showed they can win the old fashion way. Have a strong running game and play clutch defense. Earlier in the season, the Patriots won with a passing attack that was almost unmatched in NFL history. Double teams and jams at the line of scrimmage were necessary to stop Randy Moss who set the single season record for touchdown catches. The Chargers did just that--hoping they could pressure Pats QB Tom Brady who will pick any team apart if he has time. The strategy worked to some extent, as Moss had only one catch for 18 yards. But the Patriots beat the Chargers on the ground as RB Laurence Maroney averaged almost five yards a carry and finished the afternoon with 122 yards. The Patriots needed to develop a strong running game in order to have success late in the season. Many questioned whether Maroney, who was the Pats first pick in 2006, could explode through the holes provided by his offensive line. His speed was never the question. Critics, however, accused him of dancing too much at the line of scrimmage before making his cuts. Maroney answered the question with a resounding yes and showed his durability as he shed a lot of tackles. Running the ball was especially important because the game-time temperature was -5 Celsius with a wind-chill of -13 Celsius. "I have a lot of respect for New England," Chargers DE Igor Olshansky said. "When you take away their number one and number two options, they still find a way to beat you. They ran the ball extremely well. They are team that does an excellent job crossing the Is and dotting the Ts." Add Pats tight end Kyle Brady, "You would be a fool not to realize the potential of our wide receivers. You have to shut them down to have a chance. But that leaves you to worry about the running game. When the Chargers made a questionable decision to punt with a little less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, New England had a choice: Try to score quickly or slowly wear out the Chargers defense. They chose the latter. While San Diego players did not think fatigue was a factor, the Pats offensive line was simply too powerful. "We got a lot of pressure, but we expected to come in here and win," said Chargers LB Shaun Phillips. "To hold the best offense in the league to 21 points is an accomplishment, but if the score was 3-2 and we lost, we still would not be happy." The Chargers struggled to keep track of running back Kevin Faulk, who made an acrobatic catch to keep the final drive alive. On the next third down play, he caught another 13 yard pass for a first down. By that point, the Pats all but clinched their fourth Super Bowl appearance in seven years. Pats coach Bill Belichick kept the San Diego defense guessing by using as many personnel groups as possible. "We went from four wideouts to three tight ends to three wideouts," Belichick said. Faulk lined up as an outside receiver because the Chargers played a lot of off coverage. Faulk was the Pats leading receiver-finishing with eight catches for 82 yards as he had room to catch the ball down the field. The Chargers did have success against the Patriots-forcing Tom Brady to throw three interceptions including his first playoff red zone interception since 2005. Brady, though, used wide receiver Wes Welker and Moss as decoys. The Pats first touchdown was a perfect example. When Welker came over the middle, he immediately attracted the attention of two San Diego defenders leaving wide receiver Jabar Gaffney wide open. "It is a great feeling to know that you can win in so many different ways," Pats safety Rodney Harrison said. Ultimately, the reason the Pats might become the first team in NFL history to go 19-0.