Chargers stand in Pats’ way

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The winds are expected to howl through Gillette Stadium today when the undefeated New England Patriots play host to San Diego with a trip to Super Bowl XLII at stake.

But are they the winds of change?

The Chargers, who salvaged their season after a 1-3 start and are riding an eight-game winning streak, are determined to show they’re not the same team that was demolished at Gillette, 38-14, in Week 2.

The Patriots, who last week matched the final 17-0 record of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, want to remind the football world that they are the quintessential door-slammers, a team that wins every game it’s expected to win. Undoubtedly, the way they allowed victory to slip away at Indianapolis in last season’s AFC championship game is fresh in the minds of New England’s on-field leaders.

“I tell the young guys, ‘Don’t take anything for granted,’” said safety Rodney Harrison, who was sidelined because of an injury for that game at the RCA Dome, when the Colts set a conference championship record by overcoming an 18-point deficit to win. “Because at any point in time, it can be over with — whether it’s a season, whether it’s a game, whether it’s your career.”

Those are words of wisdom for the Patriots today, because everything points to them overlooking the Chargers, who began the week as 15-point underdogs. Few prognosticators have given the Chargers much of a chance, even though San Diego is a vastly different team than it was when it couldn’t seem to find its rhythm earlier this season.

“I think we got to know each other during that first month,” said coach Norv Turner, who had to endure chants of “Mar-ty, Mar-ty” from a home crowd that pined for the return of fired coach Marty Schottenheimer. “You get to know each other a lot better in times of adversity. It probably did help us as we went through the season. We’ve become a good football team, and we’re certainly playing our best right now.”

San Diego is coming off a stunning upset of the defending-champion Colts, one in which three offensive stars — quarterback Philip Rivers, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates — were injured or playing hobbled.

The extent to which those players can contribute in this game, if at all, won’t truly be known until after the noon (PST) kickoff. But San Diego has a capable collection of backups, headlined by quarterback Billy Volek, who delivered a strong performance after Rivers suffered a sprained knee at the end of the third quarter at Indianapolis.

“I understand my role on this team,” Volek said. “If I do get the nod, I’ve got to go out there and make plays. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team who can go out there and make plays — L.T., Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson — so it’s not like I have to go out there and do anything special.”

The Patriots are something special, there’s no arguing that. But their opponents in the second half of the season have revealed some vulnerabilities that the Chargers will try to exploit. After beating teams by an average of 25.4 points in the first 10 games of the regular season, the Patriots’ points differential slid to 10.2 in the last six games.

Likewise, there was a 10.4-point rise in the passer ratings of their opponents, and New England’s turnover differential went from plus-13 in the first 10 games, to plus-three in the last six.

Of course, as New England receiver Randy Moss reiterates each week, the only number that really counts is the zero on the right side of their win-loss record.

The Chargers can certainly respect that.

“You look at what they’ve done this year, they just have so many weapons,” San Diego defensive tackle Luis Castillo said. “Whether it’s Randy Moss or Wes Welker … then you look at Tom Brady. For him to have the abilities that he does and to be able to lead that offense the way he does … they’ve really dominated people.”

So how do the Chargers derail another dominating performance, sidestep the embarrassment of a Week 2 encore?

“Probably the biggest thing is not making any big mistakes,” said Shawne Merriman, a leader on a Chargers defense that led the league with a plus-24 turnover differential this season. “The margin for error in games like this, and playing this kind of team, is very small. They have guys all around the field who can play. … When you have to cover a guy, you have to cover him. When you get the chance to sack Brady, or make a play, you have to make it.”

Last year, when the Patriots went to San Diego and stunned the 14-2 Chargers with a crowd-quieting upset in a divisional playoff game, some New England players celebrated on the midfield logo by mockingly doing Merriman’s “lights-out” dance.

That triggered a war of words between the teams, one that spilled onto Internet chat boards and fueled insults between Chargers and Patriots fans. That bad blood only raises the emotional ante for today’s game.

The Chargers seem to delight in the notion that most everyone is ruling them out.

“During the week of playing the Colts, we weren’t the underdogs, we were the under-underdogs,” Merriman said. “Now we’re like below the underdogs. They need to come up with a new word for us this week.”

Talk to us

More in Sports

Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III celebrates after scoring against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of Sunday’s game in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
Grading the Seahawks in their 37-27 win over the Panthers

Seattle turns in a solid all-around performance in front of the 2013 Super Bowl winners.

Monroe’s Mason Davis (1) celebrates with Trent Bublitz (11) after Bublitz’s touchdown reception against Edmonds-Woodway on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at Edmonds School District Stadium in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Reader poll: Make your picks for Week 5 prep football games

Do you think you can beat the experts in our weekly high… Continue reading

Arlington’s defense stuffs Ferndale running back Talan Bungard on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at Arlington High School in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Arlington steamrolls Ferndale in 3A Wesco North showdown

The Eagles light up offense in the first half, finish business to earn a 46-14 win.

Lake Stevens High School head football coach Tom Tri hoists his team’s championship trophy during a community parade and celebration Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
The Herald’s 2022-23 Man of the Year in Sports: Tom Tri

The Lake Stevens coach guided the Vikings to Snohomish County’s first large classification football state title in more than 30 years.

West Linn’s Ryan Vandenbrink (23) runs with the ball during a football game between Lake Stevens and West Linn at Lake Stevens High School in Lake Stevens, Washington on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. West Linn won, 49-30. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Turnovers cost Lake Stevens in loss to Oregon power West Linn

The Vikings’ run of 35 straight home wins in the regular season ends in an interstate showdown of big-school state champions.

Marysville Pilchuck’s Christian Van Natta lifts the ball in the air to celebrate a turnover during the game against Marysville Getchell on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Prep football roundup for Friday, Sept. 22

Prep football roundup for Friday, Sept. 22: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report… Continue reading

Lynnwood teammates mob senior Abbie Orr (4) after her impressive dig led to a point against Jackson during a volleyball match Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, at Lynnwood High School in Bothell, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lynnwood volleyball team continues rise to prominence

After ending a 20-year state drought last season, the Royals are surging again and have vaulted to No. 3 in Class 3A in the new WSVCA poll.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) scrambles up field during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Seahawks set to host Panthers, honor past while focused on present

Seattle will honor the 10-year anniversary of its only Super Bowl championship during Sunday’s game.

Jackson High’s Ben Lee lunges to get to the ball against Kamiak on Thursday, Sep. 22, 2022, at the Kamiak Tennis Courts in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Prep boys tennis season preview: Players and teams to watch

A look at the area’s top athletes and teams on the tennis court this fall.

Most Read