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 Post Posted: Thu Sep 13, 2007 7:52 pm 
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Chargers visit Patriots in battle of AFC heavyweights
Associated Press


Bill Belichick's New England Patriots found themselves embroiled in controversy this week. As far as LaDainian Tomlinson and the San Diego Chargers are concerned, there was already plenty of controversy surrounding the Patriots and their coach eight months ago.

Tomlinson and the Chargers travel to Foxborough to face New England on Sunday night in a contest that's both a playoff rematch and a potential preview of this year's AFC championship game.


The Chargers (1-0) and Patriots (1-0) last met Jan. 14 at San Diego in a divisional playoff game. Tomlinson gained 187 total yards and ran for two touchdowns, but New England rallied from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the top-seeded Chargers 24-21 on a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 1:10 remaining.

After the game, Tomlinson took exception to the manner in which cornerback Ellis Hobbs and other Patriots danced on the Chargers logo at midfield.

"I would never react in that way. I was very upset," Tomlinson said. "When you go to the middle of our field and start doing the dance (Chargers linebacker) Shawne Merriman is known for, that is disrespectful. They showed no class and maybe that comes from the head coach."

Tomlinson managed only 25 rushing yards on 17 carries in last Sunday's season opener against Chicago, but ran for one touchdown and threw for another as the Chargers beat the reigning NFC champions 14-3.

One day later, the All-Pro running back wasn't in the mood to revisit his gripe from the playoff loss to the Patriots.

"I guess I'm at the point where it really doesn't matter how I feel about them," Tomlinson said Monday. "Who cares about the way I feel about them? I want to beat them. It doesn't matter how I feel about them. That's not important. Winning, that's important."

Like the Chargers, the Patriots opened the season Sunday with an impressive win over a 2006 playoff team, beating the AFC East rival New York Jets 38-14.

That result, though, was quickly overshadowed by scandal, as the NFL launched an investigation into whether New England violated league rules by spying on the defensive signals of Jets coaches by videotape. Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke with Belichick about the matter, and is reportedly considering severe sanctions against the Patriots.

"At this point, we have not been notified of the league's ruling," Belichick said Wednesday in a statement. "Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players. Following the league's decision, I will have further comment."

Aided by spying or not, the Patriots made a much more emphatic statement on the field Sunday. Tom Brady completed 22 of 28 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns, including a 51-yarder to offseason acquisition Randy Moss.

Moss, a former Pro Bowler in Minnesota who was dealt to New England after a pair of subpar seasons with Oakland, finished with nine receptions for 183 yards in his Patriots debut.

"He was a great player before he got to the Patriots," said Brady, 2-2 with a mediocre 78.4 passer rating in his career versus the Chargers. "Obviously, he's still a great player."

Hobbs also played a key role in the victory, returning the opening kickoff of the second half an NFL-record 108 yards for a touchdown.

New England will now try and improve to 6-0 in home openers at Gillette Stadium, but it won't be an easy task against a San Diego team that's won 11 consecutive regular season games since Week 8 of last year.

The Chargers also won in their last visit to Foxborough, 41-17 on Oct. 2, 2005 -- the last time New England allowed 40 points or more. Tomlinson rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns in that contest, while San Diego tight end Antonio Gates caught six passes for 108 yards.

Gates, who hauled in Tomlinson's 17-yard touchdown pass last week and finished with nine receptions for 107 yards, realizes the Chargers must focus to avoid a repeat of January's meeting. They committed four turnovers and six penalties in that matchup.

"The fact of the matter is, we've got to go out and play," Gates said. "The New England Patriots guys came out and they outplayed us, man to man. Going into this game, we understand the focus that we've got to outplay the New England Patriots team. It ain't got nothing to do with the coaches, it ain't got nothing to do with the play calling, it's got something to do with the execution."

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers struggled against the Patriots in January, completing only 14 of 32 passes for 230 yards and one interception while also losing a fumble. He was 22-for-31 for 190 yards with an interception against the Bears last week.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press


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