Crafty Brady fuels Pats' comeback win over Chargers

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Tom Brady, as cool as ever, delivered every

time the San Diego Chargers gave him another chance.

Already a three-time Super Bowl winner, his shot at a fourth is

very much alive after the New England Patriots shocked league MVP

LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers on Sunday, winning 24-21 to

advance to the AFC Championship Game.

Clayton: Professor Patriots

Following the Patriots' 24-21 win, Belichick is 13-2 in playoff games. Schottenheimer is 5-13 and has lost six straight postseason games. The uncanny way in which the Patriots rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final 8:35 is why Belechick could be heading to the Pro Football Hall of Fame once he gives up coaching. Column

Brady overcame three interceptions, his career playoff high, to

lead the Patriots to 11 points in 3:26 late in the game. He and

coach Bill Belichick now have a 12-1 postseason record together,

and need to win at Indianapolis next Sunday to make their fourth

Super Bowl trip in six seasons.

Brady and linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who also helped the Patriots

in their Super Bowl runs earlier this decade, walked off the field


"I said to Tedy, 'Man, that was not easy.' He says to me, 'They

never are buddy, they never are,'" said Brady, 27-of-51 for 280


As tough a win as it was for New England, it was a gut-wrenching

loss for San Diego and its coach, Marty Schottenheimer, whose job

could be in jeopardy after his career postseason record tumbled to


Tomlinson shattered several league records in helping the

Chargers go an NFL-best 14-2, including 8-0 at home in the regular


Elias Says

Stephen Gostkowski
The next Adam Vinatieri? How about his successor, Stephen Gostkowski, who kicked three field goals in the Patriots' 24-21 victory at San Diego, including a 31-yard game-winner with 1:10 to play. Gostkowski was the first rookie to kick a fourth-quarter game-winning field goal in a postseason game since Jim O'Brien of the Colts broke the hearts of Cowboys fans 36 years ago in Super Bowl V.

Gostkowski's 50-yard field goal to open the scoring was the second longest in NFL history by a rookie in a playoff game. The record is 51 yards by Fuad Reveiz of the Dolphins in a victory over the Browns in January 1986.

• Read more Elias Says.

Once it was over, Tomlinson, like Brady one of the most

laid-back superstars in any sport, lost his cool. He went after an

unidentified Patriots player and had to be restrained by a teammate

and former Charger Reche Caldwell, who had a huge game for the


Tomlinson yelled and pointed at the Patriots player, upset that

some Patriots were dancing on the Chargers logo at midfield after

they had silenced the record crowd of 68,810 at Qualcomm Stadium.

"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 Shawne Merriman is known for, that is disrespectful. They

showed no class and maybe that comes from the head coach."

Merriman, nicknamed "Lights Out," did a spasmodic dance to

celebrate each of his NFL-high 17 sacks.

"We lost to a better team today," Tomlinson said. "Hopefully

the next opportunity we have we'll learn something from this."

Tomlinson ran for 123 yards and two scores, and caught two

passes for 64 yards.

While the Chargers respected the mystique Brady and the Patriots

had built with Super Bowl wins following the 2001, 2002 and 2004

seasons, they hoped to be the ones raising the Lombardi Trophy in

Miami on Feb. 4.

San Diego had nine players voted to the Pro Bowl team and five

to the All-Pro team. And it had been supercharged by Tomlinson, who

became the most prolific scorer in one season in NFL history with

31 touchdowns and 186 points while winning the rushing title with

1,815 yards.

But Brady is the one who's been there before in January. And

nearly always has won -- it was Brady's sixth career game-winning

drive in the playoffs, and his 24th overall.

The winning points came on a 31-yard field goal by Stephen

Gostkowski with 1:10 left. That capped a 72-yard drive highlighted

by a 49-yard pass to Reche Caldwell, who left the Chargers as a

free agent after last season.

With the Patriots trailing 21-13, Brady threw a 4-yard touchdown

pass to the wide-open Caldwell with 4:36 to play. The Patriots tied

it on a tricky 2-point conversion, snapping the ball directly to

running back Kevin Faulk, who was standing next to Brady and ran

through the middle of the line.

San Diego's Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding was short on a 54-yard

field goal try with 3 seconds left.

Schottenheimer will no doubt be criticized for going for it on

fourth-and-11 from the New England 30 in the first quarter rather

than having Kaeding try a field goal.

Philip Rivers, the Chargers' first-year starting quarterback,

was sacked by Mike Vrabel and fumbled, giving the Patriots the ball

at their 35.

Although Schottenheimer has a year left on his contract, at more

than $3 million, he and general manager A.J. Smith have had an icy

relationship for months, and the front-office felt this team was

built for a Super Bowl run.

The Chargers had four turnovers -- they had only 15 in the

regular season -- and made other critical mistakes.

"Anytime you're in the playoffs and lose, and certainly I have

plenty of experience at it, there's a disappointment,"

Schottenheimer said.

Punt returner Eric Parker had a double muff to give the Patriots

the ball on their 31 late in the third quarter. Following a

third-and-13 on which Brady fumbled and Matt Light recovered,

Chargers cornerback Drayton Florence head-butted tight end Daniel

Graham and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That led

to Gostkowski's 24-yard field that pulled the Patriots to 14-13.

Tomlinson scored on a 3-yard run with 8:35 left in the game for

a 21-13 lead.

On the next Patriots drive, Brady was intercepted by safety

Marlon McCree, who, rather than going down, tried for a return and

was hit by Troy Brown and fumbled, with Caldwell recovering.

The Chargers challenged, but the play was upheld, and the

Patriots had the ball at the Chargers 32. Five plays later, Brady

hit Caldwell and Faulk added the conversion.

"There was a lot of gratification," Caldwell said. "I had a

chance to come home and show what I could do and I think I made


Tomlinson scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter for a 7-3

lead. Later, he turned a screen pass into a brilliant 58-yard gain,

leaving two defenders grasping at air while he scooted to the New

England 6. His backup, Michael Turner, scored on the next play for

a 14-3 lead.

Brady kept the Patriots in it by running the two-minute offense

to perfection, pulling New England to 14-10 just before halftime.

At the end of the 10-play, 72-yard drive, Brady had all day to

throw a 6-yard pass to Jabar Gaffney in the back of the end zone.

Game notes
San Diego lost its fourth straight postseason game

dating to the Super Bowl following the 1994 season ... The kicker

rookie Gostkowski replaced, Adam Vinatieri, kicked five field goals

for all of Indianapolis' points in a 15-6 win at Baltimore on