Bring On Indianapolis!!!!!!!!!!

Peyton, Here We C-O-M-E!!

The conventional wisdom was that San Diego was the better team… younger, faster, stronger, and more well rested. It seems everyone picked the Chargers to beat the Patriots today… yet in spte of their youth, speed, strength and vigor, the Chargers will be playing golf next weekend while the NE Patriots travel to Indianapolis.

Football is not just about youth… or speed… or strength… or rest… although those are important ingredients in the recipe of a winning team. Football is also about execution… and strategy… and experience… and resilience. Oh yeah… it’s also about coaching.

And today in San Diego, the seasoned New England Patriots had enough speed and enough strength… while possessing the superior resilience in executing the big plays at the key moments… oh yeah, and their coach out X’d and O’d the guy across the field.

As a result, San Diego coach Marty Schoettenheimer can eat the disparaging words he directed towards the Patriots last year when the Chargers came to Foxborough and convincingly beat the Patriots 41-17… as Marty watched his post-season record fall to an abysmal 5-13. And the Chargers organization can forget about preventing Indianapolis fans from buying tickets to the AFC Championship Game next week… as the game will be held in Indiana instead of southern California—and it will be Pats fans looking to buy tickets to another away game. And the City of San Diego can cancel all of those Super Bowl celebrations and parade that they have already scheduled… as those celebrations and that parage will be held in either Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis or New Orleans.

There were twenty key moments to this game… all of which were critical to this win… and if the game had been without any of them the results might have been different:

Clinton Hart’s dropped interception of a twice-tipped Tom Brady pass on the Patriots’ first offensive possession—Hart was wide open and it shoulda been caught…

Marty Schoettenheimer’s gamble on 4th-and-11 in the first quarter—eschewing a field goal attempt—and leading to Mike Vrabel’s sack and forced fumble (recovered by Tully Banta-Cain and leading to Gostkowski’s first field goal)…
Vrabel Sacks Philip Rivers Creating Early Momentum Swing

Gotskowski’s first field goal (50 yards)…

Tom Brady – to – Jabar Gaffney as the wide receiver broke free in the back of the end zone for a touchdown at the end of the first half…

James Sanders’ huge sack of Philip Rivers mid-way through the 3rd quarter – knocking San Diego out of field goal range and forcing the Chargers to punt…

Antwain Spann’s hit on Eric Parker when the latter muffed a punt – and TE David Thomas’ recovery of the muff (leading to Gostkowski’s second field goal of the game)…

Matt Light’s fumble recovery of a Tom Brady fumble near the end of the third quarter…

…and at the end of the same play, CB Drayton Florence’s head-butt of tight end Daniel Graham and subsequent 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct… giving the Patriots a 1st down at the 18-yard line instead of forcing a 50-yard attempt)…

Gostkowski’s second field goal (34 yards)…

Philip Rivers – to – Roosevelt Colvin —stopping a San Diego drive at the NE 36-yard line…

Troy Brown’s forced fumble – stripping the ball from Marlon McCree after the latter had intercepted Tom Brady (the third pickoff of Brady on the day) with only 6:30 left in the game and San Diego leading 21-13…

Reche Caldwell’s recovery of the fumble caused by Brown – setting up the game-tying drive…

Marty Schoettenheimer challenging the ruling on the play at the instigation of QB Philip Rivers (costing the Chargers a HUGE timeout)…

Tom Brady – to – Reche Caldwell in the corner of the end zone to make the score 21-19…

The direct snap to Kevin Faulk for the two-point conversion – tying the game at 21-21… with a special mention to the Pats offensive line (who pushed the SD defensive line to the Mexican border on the play)…

Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel defending back-to-back Rivers’ passes on the subsequent drive to force a punt – setting up the game-winning drive…

Tom Brady – to – Reche Caldwell for 49 yards (and Caldwell falling out of bounds seconds later ensuring the time clock would keep winding toward 0:00… leaving SD with precious little time for a final drive and no timeouts)

Steven Gostkowski’s game-winning field goal with 1:10 left in the game (31 yards)…

Nate Kaeding’s 54-yard field goal attempt coming up 3 yards short and 3 yards to the right…

Assuredly, without any one of these plays the final result of the game likely would been different… but those are only the BIG moments that stick out in a game FULL of important performances:

Gostkowski had a “perfect” day today… making him perfect for the playoffs thus far (now 6/6 on field goal attempts and 5/5 in PATs)…

Not only did Spann and Thomas come up big on the muffed punt in the third quarter, but Heath Evans and Eric Alexander each came up h-u-g-e on special teams today (3 tackles apiece)…

Punter Todd Sauerbrun had a clutch performance today with 7 punts for a 44.1 yd average… including a 56-yard punt in the 1st quarter (from the 14-yard line) and a 46-yard punt in the 2nd quarter (from the 15-yard line) helping to keep the field position aspect of the game from consuming the Patriots…

LB Tedy Bruschi was immense in the middle of the field—leading the team with eleven tackles (six solo)…

The Patriots offensive line played an outstanding football game—most especially LT Todd Light who played an IMPRESSIVE game in shutting down All Pro LB Shawn Merriman (Merriman had 63 tackles and 17 sacks in the regular season, yet he had only 2 tackles and 1 sack today due in large part to Light’s stellar performance)…

The Patriots defensive backfield held San Diego’s wide receivers to a total of FOUR catches on the day (the other ten were by TE Antonio Gates and the running backs). With a special tip-of-the-cap to Artrell Hawkins – who was second on the team with seven tackles (plus the key sack of Rivers)…

The Patriots oft-maligned receiving corps—who caught a combined 22 passes today for 222 yards and two touchdowns… notably the break-out performance of Jabar Gaffney over the last two weeks (10 catches for 103 yards today…a week after 8 catches for 104 yards against the NY Jets in the Wild Card Game)… and with special mention to Reche Caldwell (7 receptions, 80 yards, 1 TD, and a HUGE fumble recovery)…

And finally, Tom Brady’s performance in the last 2:04 of the first half and the last 6:06 of the game. Sure he threw three interceptions on the day, but he helped “will” this team to victory – again! With 2:04 left in the first half, his QB-rating was 8.9. That is NOT a misprint—it was 08.9. During the last drive of the half, all he did was go 5-for-7 for 55 yards and a touchdown to make the score 14-10 at the half. Then, trailing by eight points with only six minutes between the team and the end of their season, Brady went 6-for-9 for 100 yards, the game-tying touchdown, and the 49-yard completion that set up the game-winning field goal.

That’s 11-for-16 for 155 yards and two TDs with the game on the line. In years to come, the box score will show his QB-rating was only 57.6 for today’s efforts… but those of us who saw the game will recall that he was at his best when things looked their worst. When all is said and done, what really matters is that the team won the game. They will play next week. Tom Brady is now 12-1 in post-season starts.

Admittedly, he threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball… and in doing so he had to rely on huge plays from Troy Brown and Matt Light to maintain possession of the football… but that’s why it is a team game. Because it can’t be done by one guy—everyone has to do their piece to help win the game.

This was a TEAM victory today… and every player who laced them up can likely lay claim that he played some key part—big or small—in the win. As a result the Pats are going to their fourth AFC Championship Game in the last six years. At the Super Bowl in 2002, no Patriot was individually introduced to the Superdome crowd in the pre-game ceremony—the players were presented to the world as a team.

Today this team once again proved that it isn’t necessarily the collection of players with the most talent that wins big games… it is the team with a collection of talented players who play together as a team that wins the big games.

Those of us with Super Bowl tickets can still hope we will be watching the Patriots in Miami in three weeks.

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