|Tom Brady played average but still lifted the AFC Championship trophy for the fourth time in his career.(Courtesy of NFL.com)
The Patriots will be heading to Arizona for their fourth Super Bowl in seven years thanks to a 21-12 win on Sunday over a feisty Chargers team. Tom Brady (three interceptions) played like a mortal in the cold weather, Randy Moss again only had one catch and Wes Welker dropped two catches he routinely makes. Yet the Patriots defense rose to the occasion and kept the Chargers out of the end zone for the entire game, and have not allowed a touchdown since halftime of the Jaguars game. LaDainian Tomlinson tried to give it a go but didn’t last long, and even though his backup Michael Turner (17 carries, 65 yards) ran effectively, the red zone defense of the Patriots ensured the team a chance for their fourth title of the decade. Here’s what we learned.
- LAURENCE MARONEY IS ONLY GETTING BETTER: One can make the case that Laurence Maroney has never run harder than he did Sunday. With the passing game on the fritz, Maroney took over the game in the second half. The second year runner from Minnesota finished the game with 25 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown – becoming the first Patriot to rush for more than 100 yards in consecutive playoff games since the mid-1980s. With the Pats lead remaining slim for the majority of the game, they simply brought in their three tight end, one fullback set with only Moss split wide and rammed it down the Chargers throat. Maroney hit the holes hard and kept initiating contact with defenders which gave him some tough earned yards and sparked the 10 minute drive which ended the game.
- THE BEND/DON’T BREAK DEFENSE HAS STILL GOT SOME LEFT: The Pats defense – which has been criticized all season for their old age and slow feet – came up huge in the red zone on Sunday. In the playoffs, if you can keep the other team out of the endzone, the chances are pretty good you’ll be moving on. The Chargers were able to drive down field consistently against the Pats defense, yet once they passed the 20, forget about it. The key defensive play in the game came in the third quarter with the score 14-9 Pats. The Chargers had a third and one inside the five and 87-year old Junior Seau shot the gap perfectly and took Turner down for a two yard loss. The Chargers were forced to kick another field goal and wouldn’t score again. Seau and Tedy Bruschi both had monster games in what could have been their Foxboro finale. If it is so, they left it all out on the field on Sunday.
- BRADY IS HUMAN: Yes, the cold weather definitely affected Brady and the receivers. Brady was overthrowing receivers by 10 yards and lofting the ball high over even Randy Moss’ head. The QB also had three interceptions in a game for the first time this season, the worst of which came late in the third as the Pats were trying to punch it in and Antonio Cromartie (12 picks on the year) intercepted Brady in the endzone. It was an uncharacteristic mistake from Brady, who just seemed off from the start. Whether it has something to do with a leg injury, we’ll never know. But history tells us that after a poor outing, Brady usually comes out with an outstanding game the next time he takes the field.
The game definitely was missing a little magic with the Colts sitting at home and not on the field in Foxboro, but there really is nothing like playoff atmosphere football. Despite an F-16 flyover before the game, fireworks during the game and a confetti shower after the game, it still took time to sink in that the Patriots are 18-0 and headed to the Super Bowl. Nearly everyone assumed victory over the Chargers on Sunday, but I hope everyone can now take a step back and realize that we’re watching one of the greatest seasons in the history of sports. The Patriots are about to do something that no other NFL has done, and probably will do. The Giants will pose some matchup problems and gave the Pats a run for their money in Week 17, but in the Arizona desert, it will take something special from the G-men to stop fate, and that is the Patriots fourth Super Bowl win of the decade.
Tags: Patriots, Randy Moss, Tom Brady